By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
TERRE HAUTE, IND. (22-Nov) -- Like the freight trains that rumble relentlessly through this hardscrabble Midwestern city each day, Oregon's Edward Cheserek stormed to his second consecutive NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships win here today with a late-race breakaway, prevailing by a comfortable four seconds. Behind him, the men of the University of Colorado retained their 2013 team title, placing three men in the top-10 and scoring 65 points, 30 better than second place Stanford. Both the individual and team victories were expected.
"Actually, I came in (and thought) I've got to defend my title," a beaming Cheserek told a small group of reporters in a cramped mixed zone. "Actually, I did exactly what my coach told me."
Cheserek's coach, Andy Powell, told him to remain patient and not to attack too early. Sticking with that plan, Cheserek ran near the front of a huge 89-man lead pack through 3000 meters in a pedestrian 9:12. Running close together to fight off the strong winds, the pack was still 80-strong through the 5-K mark (15:31). Cheserek stayed patient, listened for his coach's instructions, and saved his energy for the final two kilometers.
"This year I get more mature, how to race smart, and how to time myself, well," Cheserek explained.
The race finally started to stretch out approaching the 8-K mark when Arkansas senior Stanley Kebenei pushed to the front, followed by Cheserek, Villanova's Patrick Tiernan, California's Chris Walden, UTEP's Anthony Rotich, Oregon's Eric Jenkins, and Northern Arizona's Futsum Zienasellassie. Stanford fifth-year senior Maksim Korolev, the only man to beat Cheserek this season, was hanging on in 9th place.
"The last 5-K was just tough," said Korolev, who would finish fourth. "I just, you know, didn't gut it through and make it with them."
Cheserek, who has competed on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course three times, knew exactly where he was, and knew it was time to go. He could see Kebenei was struggling, and he remembered last year's race when Texas Tech's Kennedy Kithuka took the lead too early and had nothing left in the final two kilometers.
"I took a mistake last time, last year," Cheserek told reporters. "Kithuka took the lead and I was, like, 'just run hard the last 2-K.' This is, like, my third time running here and I know exactly where 2-K is."
Cheserek made one hard push, and quickly dispatched with his rivals. He had the long, slightly uphill finish straight to himself, crossing the line in 30:19.4, some 38 seconds slower than last year. Before finishing, he looked back to see his teammate, Eric Jenkins, trading surges with Zienasellassie, and ultimately finishing second (Zienasellassie got third). Despite taking the top-2 positions, Oregon's team would only place 6th because their fifth man, Cole Watson, finished 155th (131st among scoring athletes).
In contrast, Colorado's fifth man, Pierce Murphy, was 35th (26th among scoring runners), assuring coach Mark Wetmore's Buffaloes a commanding victory.
I'm very happy with them," Coach Wetmore told Race Results Weekly. "You know this is a hard race to do without mistakes, and I think we got good races out of everybody." He continued: "They're a close bunch of guys, like brothers, and they've gone through a lot together: the arduous training, the sacrifices on the weekend, etc. There's a bond, and they wanted to do it for each other."
Colorado senior Blake Theroux, who finished ninth, echoed Wetmore's comments. Speaking with reporters while standing arm-in-arm with his teammates he said: "(We're) just another part of the tradition; that's all we are." He continued: "We were talking about winning every single day since June first. Every single day since outdoors we've talked about this day, and we're going to come out here and kill it. That's what we did."
Colorado's "team of equals" is just the kind of squad that Wetmore, who has been head coach at Colorado for 22 seasons, likes to coach.
"For us, it is ONLY a team sport," he said.