This is NCAA Men’s Distance recap. I missed this in the craziness of the last two weeks. My apologies to Matt Wisner, who gives us an insider’s view into the strategies and battles in each distance race at the 2022 NCAA Men’s Indoor Championships, held March 11-12, 2022, in Birmingham CrossPlex, Birmingham, Alabama.
Texas takes the NCAA Division I Indoor Championships, photo courtesy of NCAA
NCAA Men’s Distance Recap
The 1200 legs packed up through the first 800, and then Joe Waskom from Washington broke it open. At the handoff, there were people all over the place, all the teams but one between 2:53 and 2:56. Wisconsin led.
Being the first team to hand off to the 400 legs is a huge advantage, and while the Wisconsin team didn’t have the fastest split (actually nowhere near the fastest split), they handed off in the lead again because they didn’t have to deal with the mess that comes with running in traffic.
The front seven teams all ran in a line for the 800-meter leg. The defining move of the leg came from Crayton Carrozza of Texas. He came from fifth to the lead with a lap to go and split the field up a bit more than they already were. Carrozza was definitely the best 800-meter runner on that leg of the relay, but he was passed in the last 50 meters by Abdullahi Hassan of Wisconsin, probably because he had run the mile prelim earlier in the day. (Carrozza chose to scratch the open 800 despite being ranked seventh in the event coming into the meet, in favor of the open mile.) Again, Wisconsin handed off in the lead.
Jackson Sharp of Wisconsin led the leg through the first 800 meters at a pace that was slow enough for some of the teams that were a bit farther back to catch up. With four laps to go, there were eight teams in the front pack.
The pace quickened. Oklahoma State took the lead. Sharp took the lead for Wisconsin again. Princeton took the lead. And then on the backstretch on the final lap, Yaseen Abdalla of Texas took over the lead, and that was the end of it. Texas won the race in 9:25.20, a facility record.
Yared Nuguse was lurking the whole way and couldn’t secure the victory. At the final exchange, he was only two seconds back of the lead, and his mile/1500 PR is certainly more than two seconds faster than anybody else in the field, and he was the only Olympian in the race.
Nuguse closed fast enough for Notre Dame to finish second (He split 3:55). Their time was 9:25.77. After leading almost the entire race, Wisconsin finished third in 9:25.78. Washington was the top seed coming into the meet, and they finished in seventh in 9:29.27.
“I haven’t always been one of the top guys in the country,” Abdalla said after the race. He said his sophomore year of high school, he had only run 6:59 in the mile. He said he was lucky to have been given the chance to run in Texas. He walked onto the team, and now he’s anchored them to a national title.
“We’re just getting started right now,” Abdalla said. “Next year we’re gonna try to be all-time greats.” They’re all freshmen and sophomores in terms of eligibility.
The pace was very slow: 2:10 through 809 meters. I thought that situation played into the hands of two people in the field: Reed Brown or Crayton Carrozza. Reed is one of my training partners, and he has some serious raw speed, and he stayed right on the rail immediately behind the leader for nearly the whole race. And Carrozza has the fastest 800 PR in the field; he ran 1:46 at NCAAs outdoor last spring and would’ve also been one of the top seeds in the 800 this indoor season had he chosen to run the 8.
Anyway, neither of them won. Mario Garcia Romo from Ole Miss led the whole race, and when it was time to crank down the pace, he continued to lead and just didn’t let anybody go around him. Garcia Romo and Beadlescomb of Michigan State were probably the two favorites heading into the race because they have the fastest PRs and the most impressive resumes, but they would have been much clearer favorites if the pace were faster from the gun.
Regardless, Garcia Romo won the race in 4:07.54. Beadlescomb came second in 4:07.59. Reed Brown was third in 4:07.64.
And in the last 50 meters, I really thought Reed was going to win. I’m not sure if it’s something about the Birmingham track or just championship racing, but all weekend, I watched the leader swing wide of the final turn. They almost always leave lane one wide open, and that’s right where Reed was hovering the whole race. Finally, he was free and could get around. But he just wasn’t quite fast enough. 0.10 seconds away from a national title.
“In the middle of the race I was thinking about how Matthew Centrowitz won his Olympic gold,” Garcia Romo said after the race. “If he did it, I think I can do it too.” And the execution was nearly identical: Run the slowest pace you can possibly imagine in first place on the rail, and just don’t let anybody get around you.
I think everybody was scared of Brandon Miller. He had the clear fastest time coming into the meet. He was the only guy to have run 1:45.
Miller took over the lead after 200 meters and came through the 400 in 52-mid, and nobody ever went around him. He ran 1:47.19 to win, which is one of the slower times we’ve seen in the past few years.
Jonathan Jones of Texas finished second in 1:47.93. John Rivera was third in 1:48.03. Yes, 1:48 earned a bronze medal. It’s not abnormal for some of the longer distance races to run tactically, but the 800 is usually exempt from that championship tradition. This race wasn’t even “tactical,” just slow.
Texas scored a bunch of team points in this race. Second and fourth. That’s 13 points.
“Was it ever a doubt in your mind you were going to win?”, he was asked. “No,” he replied.
Kiptoo returned to his roots and opened the race in a 58-second first 400, wearing gloves inside. Nico Young followed him closely, but there were little gaps everywhere.
Three-and-a-half minutes into the race, everybody had regained some kind of contact. All 16 men were in a line, one behind the other. The leaders came through the first 1600 in 4:13.
Adriaan Wildschutt of Florida State took over the lead. Kiptoo took it back over. Wildschutt took it again. Then Kiptoo took it again. All 16 men were still, more or less, in a line on the rail, one behind the next.
Abdelhamid Nur from NAU took over the lead with five laps to go. He didn’t even quicken the pace; everybody else was just slowing down. He just continued running 32s, and three other men went with him, and they pulled away from everybody else.
With a lap to go, Nur was off the front, and it appeared the other three would battle for second place: Wildschutt, Nico Young, and Kai Robinson of Stanford. Robinson closed like crazy. If he had 100 more meters, it looked like he even would have blown past Nur, who slowed down into the line, certain of his victory.
- Abdihamid Nur, 13:19.01 (PR, MR, FR)
- Kai Robinson, 13:20.17 (PR)
- Nico Young, 13:21.23 (PR)
- Adriaan Wildschutt, 13:21.23
NAU men finished first and third. And also eighth: Drew Bosley snuck into the scoring position in 13:29.69 for one point. That’s 17 points in just the 5,000. Only 12 full teams scored more points than that over the course of the entire meet.
This was seriously the messiest race I’ve seen in a long time. Four minutes into the race, Kioko (messy king) tripped on the rail and fell, Ben Veatch fell over him, Nico Young fell over Veatch, and Wesley Kiptoo fumbled over Young. Kiptoo, Kioko, and Young surged to catch back up to the pack, which was still moving forward at a pretty conservative pace. Veatch never regained contact with the group and was a non-factor the rest of the race.
All sixteen men (except Veatch) ran between 4:28 and 4:30 for the first mile. At that point, everybody was anticipating a fast finish, and everybody wanted to be in a good position to match a move, so they started taking turns surging into first place and then keeping the pace slow.
First, it was Kiptoo. Then it was Kemboi from Arkansas. Then Nuguse tried (and kind of failed. He had to sit on the shoulder of the leader). Then Abdihamid Nur from NAU tried to take the lead, but Kemboi wouldn’t let him. He sped up and threw elbows, just to establish himself as The Leader but then slow the pace back down. Then Eduardo Herrera took over the lead and did something similar. Everybody wanted to be in charge but nobody wanted to be in charge enough to actually run fast and break the field open. Antonio Lopez Segura took back over, and the mess continued.
But not forever. Nur took the lead with 600 to go and didn’t let anybody around him.
There was a lot of moving behind him, everybody changing positions, but Nur stayed in the lead and won the race in 7:59.88.
- Amon Kemboi, 8:00.21
- Charles Hicks, 8:00.23
- Olin Hacker, 8:00.39
- Eduardo Herrera, 8:00.58
- Antonio Lopez Segura, 8:00.70
- Nico Young, 8:00.83
- Cole Sprout, 8:00.85
All eight first team All-Americans finished within a second of each other.
Nur is a very aerobic and strong long distance runner. He’s run well in cross country and usually focuses on the 10,000 outdoors. Nur said he knew other people were faster than him and in order to win he’d have to position himself well heading into the last lap, prepared to hold people off instead of coming from behind to pass people.
“I knew the double would be hard,” Nur said, talking about winning the two longest races of the weekend. “I didn’t come into the meet thinking I’d have two wins. I just wanted to test my training and see what I could do.”
Nur also revealed that he thought about leaving NAU a few years ago when he wasn’t running as well. This weekend showed that he made the right decision by staying.
- NAU finished fourth as a team with 29 points, all from just three distance athletes. Nur scored 20 points by winning the 3,000 and 5,000. Nico Young scored eight total points (six in the 5,000 and two in the 3,000). Drew Bosley picked up one point by finishing eighth in the 5,000. NAU is recognized for their cross country dynasty. They won five of the last six NCAA titles, and usually they’re a bit more under the radar in the winter. But they accomplished a lot with just three athletes. This is also a testament to how powerful having one stud athlete can be at NCAAs, especially in the winter. Two victories from one athlete can catapult the entire team into the conversation about the team title. (Last year it was Cole Hocker and JuVaughn Harrison.)
- Nur was definitely the best distance athlete of the meet. Morgan McDonald pulled off that double the last time NCAAs were held in Birmingham.
- Texas won the team title, and a lot of it was because of their mid-distance runners. They won the DMR and scored points in the mile and 800. They scored 25 points, and they’re all underclassmen.
- Yared Nuguse really didn’t pull through. He’s an Olympian and has won basically every NCAA race that didn’t have Cole Hocker in it. Of course, he didn’t have an awful weekend: He split 3:55 to anchor his DMR team to a silver medal and then finished ninth in the 3,000 in 8:01. He’s just usually a champion, and this weekend he was not.