In a matter of days, one of the greatest championships in sports will be upon us. No, it’s not the World Cup. The NCAA Track and Field Championships are coming to back to Eugene, OR and the eyes distance running fans from around the of the world will be carefully watching the Men’s 5,000-meters.
 
As far as championship finals go, this one has the making to be one of the best races in quite some time, if not all-time, so it’s worthwhile paying attention.
 
There are a total of 24 men on the start list, but we’re going to focus on the Big Three for now: Texas Tech’s Kennedy Kithuka, Arizona’s Lawi Lalang, and Oregon’s Edward Cheserek.
 
While last three NCAA Cross Country Champions have never previously gone head-to-head-to-head, the mighty trio will all be running on relatively tired legs in the 5,000-meters.
 
Though there’ll be some sort of a handicap, this will surely be a race for the ages. If you miss it live, you’ll regret it, as the technology to erase selective memories won’t exist until at least the 22nd century; seeing it in-person, or on some sort of screen, will have to suffice.
 
Below, I’ll give a quick breakdown of each of the three and why he’ll win.
 
Edward Cheserek
NCAA Schedule
10K - Wednesday, June 11th at 7:15PM
5K - Friday, June 13th at 6:10PM
 
Let’s just get the basic fact out of the way: Edward Cheserek, a freshman, has never lost a race in which an NCAA title was on the line. He’s three for three.
 
So, despite his short-lived reputation among the collegiate ranks, Cheserek could very well fall in front of the home crowd.
 
But consider the following: if I would have asked you two years ago whether Cheserek would beat Lalang over 5,000-meters, what would you answer?
 
Because not too long ago at the 2012 Millrose Games, we saw Lalang finish 2nd in the Men's 5K in 13:08.28 and Cheserek, then a high school senior, finish way back in 8th in 13:57.04.
 
The two weren't even in the same conversation back then, but now, two years later, Cheserek is favored over his Pac-12 rival. But in the not-so-perfect world of NCAA championships and highly coveted team points, this is not the case.
 
The Oregon Duck will have less than 48 hours between his 10K and 5K finals to adequately recover. For us mere mortals, that doesn’t sound very fun, especially when attempting to win both.
 
But after talking to a coach who knows a thing or two about recovery, I think Cheserek will be fine come Friday night. I’d be willing to wager that the Oregon distance crew does over 10K worth of intervals on a regular basis, which would make coming back from a 10K a little easier on the legs.
 
The question is whether Cheserek will be able to find that final gear in the final stages of the race, or whether he’ll simply have the legs to run a fast pace from the gun, which is what dictated Lalang last year.
 
Lawi Lalang
NCAA Schedule
1500 - Thursday, June 12th at 4:30PM + Saturday, June 14th at 2:18PM (tentative)
5K - Friday, June 13th at 6:10PM
 
Ah, the revenge narrative. It once again rears its wonderful head.
 
While you may not need a reminder, Lalang is out not to defend his title, but his pride. This past winter, the Arizona senior made an inane attempt to win the Men’s Mile, 3,000-meters, and 5,000-meters at the NCAA Championships and ended up coming away with zero titles.
 
Even still, it was over before it started, due to Cheserek’s ferocious, drawn-out kick in the Men’s 5K.
 
This time, though, Lalang won’t be doubling hours back (at altitude, nonetheless) from the mile. Instead, he’ll have roughly 24 hours to recover from what should be an easy preliminary 1,500-meter round for a guy who’s run 3:33.30.
 
Not to mention, Lalang has run 3:36.34 for 1,500-meters this season in what was definitively the greatest 1,500-meter collegiate race of all-time. Against whom, you may ask? Is there any other answer other than Cheserek?


Edit: Remember last year ago when Cheserek was trying to just break four minutes in the mile? Hah.

After running 13:00.95 last summer in Monaco, I would have wagered my soul that Lalang would never lose another collegiate 5K ever again. Heck, he even wants to run sub-13 this summer as well. But thankfully, I’m not a betting man, so the essence of my being is still intact.
 
Here’s what should happen on Friday night:
 
1) Lalang will make this a real race from the start, or, at least, after the first few laps, which will be lead by Kithuka
2) The winner will run sub-13:20. Again, if you have Albuqueque-induced amnesia, Cheserek’s winning time from this past indoor championship converted to 13:24.81, which is an unofficial NCAA meet record. That's what it will take to win.

Or, if you want to hear it from the horse's mouth, things will be "tricky" in Eugene:
 
 
Kennedy Kithuka
NCAA Schedule
10K - Wednesday, June 11th at 7:15PM
5K - Friday, June 13th at 6:10PM
 
The senior from Texas Tech once looked unstoppable, but now, may not win another NCAA title ever again. The swift winds of change have blown Kithuka's ship astray.
 
We could delve into the intricacies and predictions of the Men’s 10,000-meters, but we’ll stick to the 5K for now.
 
Unfortunately, despite tearing apart the field at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships, Kithuka will be left for broke at this week’s championship.
 
That’s not to say that a 13:25.38 guy doesn’t have a shot at winning, but Lalang is better flat-out from the gun and Cheserek has a better finishing kick. In a race where there’s no room for error, Kithuka is just outmatched.
 
Final Predictions
 
Cheserek over Lalang. We wonder if the Oregon Duck will hang back with the rest of the crew for team points, but that’s a discussion for another preview. In the meantime, our prediction pendulum is currently swaying towards Cheserek, though Lalang could easily get his vengeance.

The rest of the field is listed below.

Event 7  Men 5000 Meter Run
===============================================================================
    American:  12:53.60  7/22/2011   Bernard Lagat, Nike                       
College Best:  13:08.4h  5/13/1978   Henry Rono, Washington State              
   NCAA Meet:  13:20.63  6/2/1979    Sydney Maree, Villanova                   
     Name                        Year School                 Seed           
===============================================================================
  1  Kennedy Kithuka               SR Texas Tech         13:37.95 
  2  Lawi Lalang                   SR Arizona            13:43.55 
  3  Edward Cheserek               FR Oregon             13:48.00 
  4  Shadrack Kipchirchir          SR Okla State         13:48.43 
  5  Trevor Dunbar                 SR Oregon             13:48.64 
  6  Stanley Kebenei               JR Arkansas           13:51.85 
  7  Weston Strum                  JR Loyola Marymount   13:52.00 
  8  Soufiane Bouchikhi            SR E. Kentucky        14:04.47 
  9  Matthew Gillespie             SR Iona               14:07.66 
 10  Matt Fischer                  JR Penn State         14:11.57 
 11  Eric Jenkins                  JR Oregon             14:11.57 
 12  Matthew Schwartzer            FR Indiana            14:11.63 
 13  Curtis King                   SO Dartmouth          14:11.75 
 14  Parker Stinson                SR Oregon             14:11.86 
 15  Isaac Presson                 SR North Carolina     14:12.44 
 16  Joe Rosa                      JR Stanford           14:12.86 
 17  Wesley Gallagher              SO Northeastern       14:13.04 
 18  Mohammed Ahmed                SR Wisconsin          14:13.20 
 19  John Bleday                   JR Dartmouth          14:13.33 
 20  Andrew Colley                 SR NC State           14:14.34 
 21  Patrick Tiernan               FR Villanova          14:14.57 
 22  Tom Purnell                   SO Harvard            14:14.95 
 23  Nick Happe                    SR Notre Dame         14:15.04 
 24  Kirubel Erassa                JR Okla State         14:18.65