By Bob Ramsak
Sally Kipyego will be chasing a record 10th national title at this weekend's NCAA Division I Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas.
The 23-year-old nursing student and native of Marakwet, Kenya, has captured eight NCAA titles during her career at Texas Tech University, three in cross country, and five on the track. Her march towards 10 begins tonight with the qualifying round in the mile and, three hours later, with the final of the 5000m where she'll be defending her title.
The current record of nine individual titles is held by former University of Wisconsin star Suzy Favor Hamilton.
Kipyego will start as the favorite in both contests, with a stronger challenge expected in the mile where she'll face Tennessee senior Sarah Bowman and North Carolina's Brie Felnagle, who have both have run under 4:35 this year. Kipyego lowered her career best to 4:27.19 last month and in January clocked a collegiate record 8:48.77 in the 3000m at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games.
Kipyego's task was made considerably easier with the absence of Jenny Barringer in the mile field. The University of Colorado junior, who lowered the U.S. record in the 3000m steeplechase to 9:22.26 in the Olympic final last summer, has opted for the 3000m this weekend, where she is the overwhelming favorite. Barringer beat Kipyego for the first time in her career at the Big 12 Conference Championships last month when she sped to a 4:25.91 victory in the mile to smash the 21-year-old collegiate mark of 4:28.31 set by Vicki Huber in 1988.
Middle and long distance doubling figures prominently on the men's program as well with University of Oregon standout Galen Rupp seeking a 3000/5000m double. In the 3000, he'll face Arkansas junior Dorian Ulrey, who is also a favorite in the mile. In the 5000, he'll tangle with Kenyan Sam Chelanga from Liberty University. The two finished 1-2 at the NCAA Cross Country Championships last November.
Rupp brings solid credentials to the meet, with 3:57.86 (mile), 7:44.86 and 13:18.12 career bests from this winter. Chelanga, at 24 and two years Rupp's senior, finished just a stride behind Rupp in the Tyson Invitational 5000m where he clocked 13:19.79.
Eighteen-year-old German Fernandez from Oklahoma State, who clocked a world junior best of 3:55.02 in the mile, is sitting out the championships, choosing to focus instead on the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships in two weeks time.