Just before the second-to-last turn, Oregon’s Edward Cheserek burst to the front of the line, narrowly ahead of Lawi Lalang.
As they neared the last turn before the finish line, Cheserek tilted his head ever so slightly. Once to the left, twice to the right.
Cheserek had the lead, but it wasn’t exactly a comfortable one. It never is, when running against Lalang.
As the two of them — far ahead of anyone else, lapping all the athletes at the back of the 5,000-meter race — made their final runs at the finish line Friday, the gap started to narrow.
“I almost jumped over the fence,” said UA coach Fred Harvey. “It was really that intense.”
At about the 13:11 mark, Lalang closed the gap, aligning himself with Cheserek, the finish line oh-so-close.
Lalang inched ahead a little bit, and then a little more.
Soon enough, Lalang tilted his head, ever so slightly, and smiled. He raised his arms.
Lalang won. His eighth and final NCAA title.
An exciting, historic career capped by an exciting, historic race.
“It was one of the main events I was looking forward to,” Lalang said by phone Sunday. “It was a nice race, and it was very exciting for me, being a senior, it certainly feels good. It was a very nice thing.”
Added Harvey: “Beyond a shadow of a doubt it was the most anticipated event at the championship, and it lived up to the billing.”
His winning time of 13:18.36 broke a 35-year-old meet record, set by Villanova’s Sydney Maree in 1979. Oh, and it made the Top 10 list on “SportsCenter.”
Then, to top it all off — and to finish his career at the UA, no less — Lalang, on limited rest, went and finished as a runner-up in the 1,500-meter final the next day. Overall, the UA men finished in seventh place.
What a day, what a week, what a year. And, of course, what a career for Lalang, who came to the UA from Eldoret, Kenya in 2011. That career included those eight NCAA titles, two collegiate records and five school records.
It’s safe to say that Lalang “lived up to the billing” too.
“He brought a different level of competitiveness to races,” Harvey said. “What he did for the rest of the program is he’s shown athletes how to compete and what it takes to be a champion.”
With that, here’s a closer look back at the UA men’s track and field season, and what the future holds. We will focus on the UA women Tuesday.
Team finish: 7th place (NCAA), 3rd place (Pac-12)
- Lawi Lalang
- , senior: You know the drill. He won, a lot. This year in particular, he won an outdoor NCAA title in the 5,000-meter race, was runner-up in the 1,500; indoor, he was runner-up in both of those events. He was named the 2014 Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year, and is a finalist (again) for The Bowerman.
- Nick Ross
- , senior: In May, broke a 34-year old school record in the high jump (7-6 ½), was a national runner-up at the NCAA indoor championships, won the Pac-12 high jump title. He also earned all-conference accolades in the long jump and triple jump.
Coming and going
Stepping out: Lalang, Ross, sprinter Sean Delfani, hurdler Darien McKinley.
Stepping up: Aaron Castle and Jordan Young, both throwers, in particular are expected to step up. As redshirt freshmen this season, both qualified for the NCAA outdoor championships — Young finished 14th in hammer throw, Castle 22nd in shot put. The future is bright for them. Elsewhere, Harvey said he expects big things from freshmen Miles Parrish (400 meters), Collins Kibet (distance) and redshirted junior Pau Tonnesen, who Harvey thinks might be one of the top five decathletes in the country next year.