Despite NCAA XC Loss, Cheserek Can Still Become The GOAT

Despite NCAA XC Loss, Cheserek Can Still Become The GOAT

Oregon's Edward Cheserek still has the chance to be considered greatest NCAA distance runner of all time with two seasons left.

Dec 15, 2016 by Gordon Mack
Last month, we saw Oregon's Edward Cheserek lose to Villanova's Patrick Tiernan and Syracuse's Justyn Knight at the NCAA cross country championships. In doing so, Cheserek--who was coming off of three straight NCAA cross country titles--fell short of becoming the first athlete to win a fourth NCAA cross country title.

As Cheserek has progressed at Oregon, expectations for him to become the greatest NCAA distance runner of all time have been on a steady upward trajectory. But with his recent NCAA loss, his potential for earning the "GOAT" title might have taken a big hit.

Now, the question has become, "How impactful was Cheserek's loss on his quest to become the 'GOAT' of NCAA distance running?"

Let's take a look at the championship win percentage of notable athletes with six or more NCAA titles.

Rnk Athlete Titles NCAA Races WIN%
1 Gerry Lindgren 11 12 0.917
2 Steve Prefontaine 7 8 0.875
3 Edward Cheserek 13 16 0.813
4 Suleiman Nyambui 15 19 0.789
5 Don Paige 6 9 0.667
6 Joe Falcon 7 11 0.636
7 Henry Rono 6 11 0.545
8 Lawi Lalang 8 16 0.500
8 Alistair Cragg 7 14 0.500
8 John Ngeno 7 14 0.500
11 David Kimani 6 13 0.462
Above, Washington State's Gerry Lindgren has the highest win percentage at 91.7 percent. Lindgren's lone loss was to Jim Ryun in the indoor two-mile in 1968. Cheserek comes in fourth on the list with only three losses (Lalang: 2014 Outdoor 5K; Jenkins: 2015 Indoor 3K; Tiernan/Knight: 2016 XC 10K). As shown here, even the all-time greats have lost during their careers.

Let's look at all-time marks from notable athletes with two or more NCAA top-10 performances.

Rnk Athlete 1500/Mile 3K 3K Steeple 5K 10K
1 Henry Rono - 7:41 (3rd) 8:05 (1st) 13:08 (2nd) -
2 Lawi Lalang 3:52 (3rd) 7:42 (4th) - 13:08 (1st) -
3 Alistair Cragg - 7:38 (1st) - 13:16 (5th) -
4 Stephen Sambu - - - 13:13 (3rd) 27:28 (3rd)
5 Galen Rupp - 7:44 (8th) - 13:18 (6th) 27:33 (6th)
6 Cam Levins - - - 13:18 (8th) 27:27 (2nd)
7 Edward Cheserek - 7:40 (2nd) - 13:18 (10th) -
8 Diego Estrada - 7:44 (7th) - 13:15 (4th) -
9 Eric Jenkins - 7:44 (10th) - 13:18 (9th) -
Washington State's Henry Rono has the best resume with three top-three marks, including the collegiate record in the 3,000m steeplechase. Cheserek has two top-10 marks--most notably, a 7:40 indoor 3K mark, which is second behind Arkansas' Alistar Cragg.

Looking at win percentage and top-10 marks, Cheserek is in the mix but has yet to bolster a resume that is clearly ahead of the rest. But with two more seasons left, Cheserek has a path to make his case much stronger.

How Cheserek can increase his win percentage:
If Cheserek goes 4 for 4 during the 2017 track season (3K/5K indoor, 5K/10K outdoor), his win percentage would be 17 for 20 (.850). But if you factor in that he went 2 for 2 in the DMR and that Cheserek's 3K loss to Jenkins occurred after three sub-four-minute miles and a race he could have not run due to the team title being locked up, you could argue his win-loss record is 19-2, which is .904. While this mark is not as good as 11-1, the fact that the win total is almost double would give the edge to Cheserek over Lindgren.

How Cheserek can improve his all-time marks:
- Run 3:35 in the 1500m (This would be a one-second PR that would place him in the top six all time)
- Run 13:07 in the 5,000m (This would break the NCAA record; note that Eric Jenkins ran 13:07 as a pro one month after losing to Cheserek at NCAAs)
- Run 27:30 in the 10,000m (This would put him in the top five all time; Cheserek has yet to run an honest 10K for 25 laps in his career)

These three times are all within Cheserek's range--it's just a matter of if he will be let loose to chase times in 2017. If so, he could end his Oregon career with four top-10 marks, including a 5K collegiate record. This resume would certainly challenge Henry Rono's marks. (NOTE: I know Rono's marks at the time were world records; however, world records are much harder to achieve in 2017 than they were during Rono's era. And the standard for NCAA GOAT should not be contingent on non-NCAA athletes raising the bar--i.e., the progression of world records since the 60s.)

Cheserek's loss to an Olympian and a 13:26 5K guy on grass shouldn't put an end to Cheserek's GOAT journey. After all, you know you're good when not pulling off something that has never been done before (winning four NCAA cross country titles) is considered a criticism.