After a freakish freshman cross country (XC) season resulting in a 2011 NCAA XC Championship title, Lawi Lalang became the new king of collegiate distance running.  That indoor season the Arizona Wildcat achieved the double, winning the 3k and 5k -- where he set the NCAA Meet record.  The king was in control, and boom! that outdoor season he failed to win any titles and the following XC season he was dethroned as XC Champ.

Below is the interview with Coach James Li explaining why Lalang didn’t capture a title last Spring at NCAAs.  (Seen in video from 0:00-0:20)



“He was tired.”  Not anymore.  Lalang is coming off potentially the most impressive NCAA Indoor Champs double in history. He not only won the 3k and mile but set NCAA Meet records in both.  So the king is back on his throne, with no intentions of giving it up.  With old teammate Stephen Sambu running professionally and Texas Tech's Kennedy Kithuka redshirting this outdoor season, Lalang is certainly the favorite to complete this historic double.  In the history of NCAA Division 1 track and field, there have been eleven people that have accomplished this impressive feat.


 Person (School) Year  5k time  10k time
 Cam Levins (Southern Utah) 2012  13:40.05  28:07.14
 Galen Rupp (Oregon) 2009  14:04.12  28:21.45 
 Brad Hauser (Stanford) 2000  13:48.80  30:38.57
 Meb Keflezighi (UCLA) 1997  13:44.17  28:51.18
 Ed Eyestone (BYU) 1985  13:56.72  28:46.87
 Gadamis Shahanga (UTEP) 1983  13:54.13  29:10.28
 Suleiman Nyambui (UTEP) 1982  13:54.09  29:03.54
 Suleiman Nyambui (UTEP) 1981  13:38.8  28:34.23
 Suleiman Nyambui (UTEP) 1980  13:44.43  29:21.85
 John Ngeno (Washington St.) 1975  13:22.74*  28:20.66*
 Gerry Lindgren (Washington St.) 1968  13:47.2  29:41.0
 Gerry Lindgren (Washington St.) 1967  13:47.8*  28:44.0*
 Gerry Lindgren (Washington St.) 1966  13:33.7*  28:07.0*
 Doug Brown (Montana) 1965  13:40.2*  27:59.2*
 Julio Marin (Southern California) 1963  14:24.9*  30:32.9*
*3mile/6mile

 
Can Lalang be number twelve?

The 10k will be run Thursday night where Girma Mecheso (Oklahoma State) presents the biggest scare for Lalang.  Mecheso ran his personal record (PR) this year at the Payton Jordan Invitational with a 27:52.38.

Lalang ran his PR of 28:14.63 at the Pac-12 Championships, good enough for a conference record, in his first 10k on the track of his life.  His only other 10k was at the West Regional a couple of weeks ago where he won with Solomon Haile (Arkansas) and Mecheso right behind him.  Other people to keep an eye on are the top returners from last year’s NCAA 10k: Jared Ward - BYU 5th, Ryan Dohner - Texas 7th, Paul Katam - UNCG 9th.

The main question is not if Lalang can win the 10k though.  Rather, can he hold off the fresh 5k challengers for the win?

The duties for preventing Lalang's double lie mainly in the hands of three people, Eric Jenkins, Diego Estrada and Paul Chelimo.  Estrada and Jenkins dropped killer PRs at Payton Jordan in 13:15.33 and 13:18.57 respectively.  Chelimo has a 13:21.89 PR from last Spring and proved he is not to be taken lightly after winning the East Regional 5k two weeks ago by nearly 100 meters.  Lalang though has a 13:08.28 PR (indoor) to his name, so on paper he looks good for the double.  BUT, in an NCAA Championship what’s “on paper” is just as useless as hashtags on Facebook.  Especially considering none of the three challengers will be trying to recover from the 10k two days earlier.

Since 2000, only four people at the NCAA Outdoor Champs have won the 5k with a sub 13:40, meaning it tends to be tactical race in championship settings.  After winning the mile at Indoor NCAAs, Lalang decided to be patient early in the 3k leeching onto the leaders and making a definitive move for the lead just before the 1600m mark.  We will most likely see similar tactics from him in the 5k on Saturday afternoon, sit and wait for the opportune moment to unleash his speed.  If nobody makes it an honest pace then look for those four to flirt with 4:00 for the last mile of the 5k.

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 They all have speed . . .

Eric Jenkins - originally a miler converted to longer distances, closed East Regional 5k in 4:08

Diego Estrada - says he's been working on speed and closing kick this season, as seen below


Payton Jordan 5k, showcasing Estrada’s closing speed (start video at 13:40), Jenkins only 3 seconds behind.

Paul Chelimo – 3:40.25 1500m PR also outkicked Lalang in 5k at outdoor NCAAs last year

Lawi Lalang - 3:54.74 winning time at Indoor NCAAs, a time that Jenkins or Estrada haven’t touched

A fast open mile PR does not directly translate to a fast close though.  Let’s recall Galan Rupp in his final collegiate race when he closed in 4:00 in the 5k.  Before entering that indoor season, he never even broke a 4:00 mile, but he decides to hammer a 4:00.08 last 1600m with a 1:54.30 last 800m to grab the double.

Analyzing what could or what should happen could potentially never end.  The beauty of championship races is that of the unknown.  Will Lalang recover in time for the 5k?  Estrada is hungry for a NCAA title before he graduates.  Jenkins is looking to put the exclamation point on him no longer being a dark horse.  Chelimo would love to take down his summer training partner.

In my opinion I think Lalang will accomplish the double, but Jenkins, Estrada and Chelimo might have other plans.