Only half of today's NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., went according to the script, when Liberty University's Joshua Chelanga ran away with the men's race, and the University of Colorado's Jenny Barringer had a hard time just finishing. Barringer's unexpected difficulties opened the door for last season's NCAA 5000m champion Angela Bizzarri of the University of Illinois to grab the women's title.
Chelanga, a Kenyan who is a third-year student, shot into the lead with a 63-second opening 400m and a 4:21 first mile. Although Stanford's Chris Derrick, Northern Arizona's David McNeill, and Mississippi's Barnabas Kirui tried to give chase, Chelanga rapidly put the race out of reach.
"I thought 14:09 was suicide," Derrick said after the race of Chelanga's opening 5-K split.
Indeed, by that halfway point Chelanga was already up by 28 seconds and was still pressing the pace. Striding smoothly, he hit 8 km in 22:47 and remained on track to shatter the course record set by Oregon's Galen Rupp at these 2009 championships. It was in that contest that Chelanga was narrowly defeated, and that disappointment helped fuel his desire to win today.
"I was really angry," Chelanga said in his post-race television interview on Versus about his loss to Rupp last year. "I trained so hard. Today I wanted to do something, and I did it. I just wanted it so bad and it made me want to do it."
While McNeill and Derrick were successful in dropping Kirui, they had no luck reeling in Chelanga. The NCAA 10,000m record holder sailed to victory in 28:41.3, shattering Rupp's mark by 22 seconds. McNeill, an Australian, dropped Derrick in the final 800m, to finish second in 29:06.5; Derrick finished third (29:14.8).
"I'm really bummed," said Derrick who had beaten Chelanga at the Pre-Nationals meet last month. Of Chelanga he said, "He ran amazing."
For Jenny Barringer, running in her last collegiate competition before turning professional, the race had a promising and predictable start. She and Florida State's Susan Kuijken, her key rival, took the lead immediately, with Barringer on the front and the Dutchwoman just on her heels. Kuijken, last season's NCAA 1500m champion, had said before the race that she hoped to use her closing kick to defeat Barringer.
But about 10 minutes and 30 seconds into the 6 km race, Barringer suddenly slowed. Within seconds, Kuijken had opened a big lead and Barringer was clearly struggling just to keep going.
"I didn't feel so good halfway into it," Barringer later said in her television interview. "Every time I tried to push it I had to stop."
Looking faint about 3.5 km into the race, she pitched forward, and fell to the ground. She lay motionless for a few seconds, before getting up and finishing an unthinkable 163rd.
Kuijken, who appeared to be handed a gift by Barringer, soon had her own problems. Bizzarri and the University of Washington's Kendra Schaaf, a Canadian, were closing in. Bizzarri was hoping that a patient approach would put her in contention.
"I thought I might have a shot, but I definitely wasn't sure," she said after the race. "I tried to stay in contact with the leaders and it ended up working out."
Both Bizzarri and Schaaf swept by the struggling Kuijken, then Bizzarri quickly dropped Schaaf to win the title, her first, in 19:46.8. Schaaf, who finished 12th last year as a freshman, got second (19:51.6) and Kuijken finished third (19:57.7).
"I am so excited," Bizzarri said sporting a school logo painted on her right cheek. "It's unbelievable. I really don't have words."
Jordan Hasay, the 2009 Junior Pan American Games 1500m champion from the University of Oregon, finished 18th in her first NCAA Championship.
In the team standings, Oklahoma State (127 points) took the men's title over the University of Oregon (143), and Villanova (86 points) took the women's crown over Florida State (133).