(12-Mar) -- Iowa State's Wesley Kiptoo and Auburn's Joyce Kimeli won the 5000m titles on the penultimate day of the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center at the University of Arkansas today, while the men of Oregon and women of Brigham Young took the distance medley relay titles with superb anchor-leg runs.
PHOTO: Wesley Kiptoo winning the 2021 NCAA Division I Indoor Championships 5000m (photo via cyclones.com)
Kiptoo dominated the men's race, running away from the field to win in a championships record of 13:23.77. Wearing black knitted gloves (he later said his hands were cold), Kiptoo started the race aggressively, splitting the first 400m in 59.8 seconds, and the first 800m in 2:01.1. Although Arkansas's Amon Kemboi and Florida State's Adrian Wildschutt remained within striking distance, Kiptoo felt that they were not going to help with the pace and he decided to leave them behind.
"I saw, like, everybody's not responding," the Kenyan from Marakwet told reporters. "I was like, let me start so they can come. After some time, like 800, I saw there was nobody coming close and trying to come with me. So, I just went like that."
As each lap passed, Kiptoo's lead grew, even lapping some of the slower athletes. His 3000m split was a strong 7:55.6, six seconds ahead of Wildschutt, a South African, and Kemboi, who is also from Kenya. Although he was running fast, Kiptoo said he wasn't concerned about hitting any particular splits.
"I don't see the splits," he said. "I just run."
Kiptoo's lap times remained in the mid-32's and his lead was never threatened. His time of 13:23.77 bettered the previous meet record of 13:25.11 by Lawi Lalang of the University of Arizona set in 2012.
Behind Kiptoo, an intense battle played out for second and third. Kemboi faded badly and would only finish 13th in 13:50.10. By the 4600-meter mark, Eric Hamer of Colorado State had passed Wildschutt to take over second place and held that position to the finish in 13:29.60. Wildschutt seemed to have third place locked up with a lap to go, but was passed by Michigan State's Morgan Beadlescomb in the homestretch who took third in 13:29.96 to Wildschutt's 13:30.55. Aaron Bienenfeld, a German who runs for the University of Cincinnati, rounded out the top-5 in 13:31.65. The first 11 men all set personal bests.
Kimeli's path to victory was completely different, including what looked to be a false start. Officials called the field back, and everyone was shown the green card, much to Kimeli's relief.
"I was like, 'Oh God," Kimeli told reporters. "It feels bad when you qualify and come to nationals and they disqualify you."
Like Kiptoo she was the early leader, but the pace was pedestrian: just 3:18.27 through 1000m. Grace Forbes from Rice University took over the lead at 1200 meters, but the tempo remained sluggish with lap times over 40 seconds.
"The first few laps were very slow," Kimeli told reporters. She continued: "I tried to push a little bit to see if there is somebody who could challenge me, but I saw the whole group was still crossing the gap."
It wasn't until the 12th lap of the 25-lap race that the pace picked up, or so it seemed. Katie Izzo of the University of Arkansas dropped a 35.6-second lap through 2400 meters, but the pace slowed again and the 3000m split was only a modest 9:44.32. The tempo would seesaw again and again, and it wasn't until the last 600 meters that things truly got serious. Kimeli ran 36.1, 34.9 then 31.73 for the last three laps to put the race away. She got a strong fight from NC State's Elly Henes on the final lap where the two were nearly even with 100 meters to go, but Henes ran out of gas in the homestretch allowing Minnesota's Bethany Hasz to pass her and get second. Kimeli was timed in 15:48.98, getting her first-ever NCAA title. Hasz ran 15:49.62 and Henes 15:49.86. Forbes faded to sixth and Izzo to ninth.
"During the last few laps I realized we were going to run about 16 (minutes), which is slow to me," Kimeli said. She continued: "I was psychologically prepared for the last one thousand... I was ready for anything."
In the men's distance medley relay, Oregon's strategy was simple: get the baton to anchor Cooper Teare with room to run and let the 3:50 miler bring it home. That's exactly what they did. Charlie Hunter split the penultimate 800m leg in a swift 1:46.70 giving the Ducks a slight lead over Ole Miss at the final exchange. Teare didn't appear to be in any hurry and let a pack form behind him. Holding the baton in his right hand he controlled the race, gently picking up the pace as he went.
"It was kind of just make it as far as I can while pressing the pace," Teare said of his strategy. "You know, making every one hurt."
At the bell, Teare only had Mario Garcia Romo of Ole Miss to contend with. Garcia Romo, a Spaniard, is an excellent 3K/5K runner, but doesn't possess the kind of flat-out speed that Teare does. Garcia Romo kept it close, but Teare was just too fast on the final circuit. He split a brisk 3:53-flat for the final 1600m leg to give the Ducks the win in a championships record 9:19.98. That handily beat Oregon's own record of 9:27.27 set in 2016. Garcia Romo ran 3:53.3 to give Ole Miss second place in 9:20.75, also under the previous meet record. The University of Texas got third in 9:23.73.
"It was kind of about just closing it down and making sure, you know, for the last four (hundred meters) each hundred gets faster and faster," Teare said. He continued: "I was really confident once I got to that last 150. If anyone's there I could hold them off."
The women's DMR played out similarly, with anchors Krissy Gear of Arkansas and Courtney Wayment of Brigham Young getting their batons at nearly the same moment. Gear, who had won her heat in the first round of the mile about one hour and 45 minutes earlier, led Wayment for the first three laps of their leg before Wayment moved ahead and was never challenged. Wayment ran the final 1600m in 4:32.90, and her team finished in 10:52.96, the #6 time ever in the NCAA. Gear, who was clearly tired, ran alone in second place and kept the five-woman chase pack at bay to give the Razorbacks second place in 10:57.19. Florida State got third in 10:59.16.
"I'm ecstatic," a smiling Wayment told reporters. "The only think I feel is just pure joy and excitement. It was great."
In men's mile qualifying, all eight athletes in the first of two heats broke four minutes, but only six could qualify for the final led by Oregon's Cole Hocker (3:56.57). Behind Hocker, Michigan's Tom Dodd and Villanova's Sean Dolan set personal bests of 3:57.00 and 3:57.20, respectively to advance. Among the favorites to win, Alabama's Eliud Kipsang also advanced by winning the second heat in 4:05.63, and Oregon's Reed Brown advanced out of the first heat on time (3:58.01).
There were no big surprises in the men's 800m qualifying. NCAA leader Takieddine Hedeilli of Texas Tech advanced by placing third in the first heat (1:48.07), and Oregon's Charlie Hunter won the second heat in 1:48.47 ahead of Miami of Ohio's Finley McLear (1:48.56). Indiana senior Cooper Williams, the Big Ten Conference 600m champion, failed to advance.
Arkansas entered four women in the first round of the mile, and three --Krissy Gear, Kennedy Thompson, and Gracie Hyde-- all advanced to the final. Gear ran every step of the first of two heats in the lead, gently upping the tempo in the final two laps to win in an energy-saving 4:40.92. Washington's Katie Rainsberger followed her in 4:41.61. Two BYU women, Heather Hanson and Kate Hunter, took the other two automatic qualifying spots. Sage Hurta of Colorado won the second heat which featured a number of bumps and stumbles in 4:37.04. Kaley Richards of UMass Lowell was a surprise runner-up in a personal best 4:37.72. Aneta Konieczek of Oregon took third in 4:38.59.
Collegiate record holder Athing Mu decided not to run the 800m in these championships, and instead was the fastest qualifier in the 400m (51.02). That left the 800 meters with no clear favorite, and tomorrow's final is wide open. The fastest qualifiers from today were Claire Seymour of BYU (2:03.97), Laurie Barton of Clemson (2:04.07) and Shafiqua Maloney of Arkansas (2:04.50).
With one more day of action ahead, Texas A&M leads the women's competition with 26 points, while LSU and Georgia are tied for second with 23. Defending champions Arkansas are in ninth place tied with five other teams. LSU and Georgia lead the men's competition with 20 points, and Florida State is in third with 17.