BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Coming into the 2016 Men's Indoor Track and Field Championships, most presumed Oregon would live up to the high expectations as the odds-on favorite and walk away with yet another national championship. It shouldn't be to shocking then that at the end of Day 1, Oregon sits atop the leaderboard with an eight-point lead. Despite the expected, there were still a few surprises along the way. It started in the weight throw.
Alex Young did his part to put Southeastern Louisiana University on the map. The senior pulled off the biggest upset of the day en route to earning his national title.
The field had some very familiar names. Chukwuebuka Enekwechi from Purdue was a 2015 Indoor All-American who was appearing in his fourth indoor championships having finished third in his past three appearances. Cameron Brown, a senior from Tennessee, was an SEC champion and honorable mention All-American in the weight throw. Oregon senior Greg Skipper came into the event a four-time All-American. Big names, big colleges.
Young wasn’t intimidated.
“It was fun,” Alex Young said. “A solid group of guys. All of us know each other. Chuck is the big dog obviously, awesome guy, awesome competitor. Same with Cameron. The good vibe with everybody coming in there makes the competitive spirit really high and makes it really fun.”
Despite coming off of his first throw in the middle of the pack, Young stayed focused. He improved his distance on each ensuing throw. His final throw went for 78 feet, 1 inch (23.80 meters), a SLU school record.
“I stepped into the circle, took a deep breathe and I just went for it, man,” Young said. “I put everything I had into that last throw. No holding back.”
Young is now the 2016 indoor champion, a goal he knew wasn’t such a stretch.
“Me and my coach talked about it,” Young said. “We knew we were definitely going to be the dark horse. We always knew I could throw far, it was just when could I do it. That was the biggest question. If we were able to hit positions with a lot of energy, it was going to come together and we had a chance to win this thing.”
Young was all smiles after stepping off the podium. His journey from Gardner-Webb before last season to SLU has been full of accolades. He held Gardner-Webb’s school record in three events including the weight throw. He had won the Big South weight throw championship in both of his seasons there. Now, he not only is SLU’s school record holder, he is its first indoor champion.
“The school’s first national championship,” Young said with a smile. “It’s really awesome. I transferred in a year ago. I had real good faith in my head coach, and my new throws coach that just came in this year. It just proves that it doesn’t matter where you are, just as long as you have faith in your coaches and in your program, everything is going to work out fine.
“It’s so surreal, I can’t believe it,” Young said. “Just the small school triumph over the big schools is one of the greatest feelings.”
What didn’t come as a surprise later in the evening was Edward Cheserek’s victory in the 5000 meters. Cheserek came into the championships poised to set national records. By claiming victory, it would start the weekend off right, gaining him 10 points in his quest to become just the third athlete in history to have three 20-point performances.
Cheserek did not disappoint.
Virginia Tech’s Thomas Curtain led the majority of the way, 23 of the 25 laps to be precise. Cheserek pulled away in the final two laps, winning by nearly three seconds and adding yet another national title to his illustrious career.
What happened next certainly surprised quite a few people.
Thursday, Oregon head coach Robert Johnson referred to the decision of using Cheserek in the distance medley relay as a “game time decision.” Cheserek’s competitive nature and team first mentality didn’t give Johnson much time to make the decision. Cheserek was running that relay.
“I knew immediately after I finished my 5K,” Cheserek said.
“He came off the track in the 5000,” Johnson added. “We talked for a little bit. He told me, ‘Coach I want to do this.’ After that it was a done deal.”
Oregon remained in the middle of the pack for much of the relay. When the baton was handed to Cheserek with eight laps remaining, it became a contest of two of the most gifted runners in the land.
Cheserek would go down to the wire with Washington's senior Izaik Yorks. He would set yet another record, running a 3:52.84 anchor for the Ducks. Washington would finish just a hair off of Oregon's 9:27.27 for the highest second place total in meet history (9:28).
“This is a championship season, you know how that goes,” Johnson said. “You are going to have good things and you are going to have bad things. Fortunately for us, we had more good things. It would be crazy not to talk about Edward and what he did for us and being able to come back and run the DMR. There are a lot of good competitors out here, that kid Izaic Yorks is a phenom. It makes us and our conference proud to see those two battling from the Pacific Northwest in the DMR. For us to get the win with the nation’s leader in the mile was fantastic.”
Saturday, Cheserek goes for history trying to win the 3000 meters, while Oregon hopes to hold off the SEC en route to its third consecutive championship.