This is my preview of the 2008 NCAA XC National Championship meet that takes place tomorrow. I’m sure some of those that will read this will know what I’m talking about when I say this is going to be one of the very best championships in decades, and that’s why I’m giving you this sweet preview.
Why this race is so extraordinary? Not only up front is there an amazing duel but there are really 3 different races within the same event, each one is seriously a super high-quality clash. It’s going to make for some intense drama. Let me show you what is on deck.
The individual title at the beginning of the season seemed to be a completed contest before it even commenced. This about it: Galen Rupp, an Senior for the University of Oregon, and long-time child prodigy, qualified for the Beijing Olympics and not only competed in the Olympics but ended up getting 13th in the 10,000m and was the first white guy to finish. He’s 22. Fast-forward a few months to the NCAA Pre-Nationals meet in Terre Haute, IN. A lot of people were talking about a guy from Liberty named Sam Chelanga, a kid from Kenya who just played table-tennis until it was time to go to college. That didn’t get him anywhere so he picked up running and turns out, he’s amazing. I had heard about his race at Paul Short where he set a course record, but most didn’t think he had any chance at Rupp. Now, let's go to pre-nats. There are 2 separate races at Pre-nats so it doesn’t spoil the surprise of the real championship. We raced in the first race and did well. Each race had 40 of the top 80 teams in the country. We started running around to cool down and to watch the other race cuz I wanted to see Sam Chelanga try and live up to his name. I’m standing about 3k into the 8k race and my jaw drops. I couldn’t believe it. He was already alone and well off the front of a super-elite field. The order went like this: [pace car]-[Chelanga]-[pace car]-[pace car]-[rest of the race]. It was already over. When I saw him come into the finish, I couldn’t see anyone else. Come to find out, he went through 1k in 2:30 (that’s 2:00 800m or 4:00 mile pace) and through the mile at 4:16. He broke the course record by 4 seconds, on a slow day. He won by 44 sec. He is world-class. Half the country jumped on the Chelanga band-wagon including the famous Let’s Run.com guys saying that they guarantee that Sam Chelanga will win NCAAs.
Right at the peak of the Chelanga-parade, word of Galen Rupp’s training broke out of Let’s Run’s message board. The famous 30-40 workout. Oregon has been doing this since the 60’s, in fact the legendary Steve Prefontaine (the only distance guy non-runners have ever heard of) did this workout back in his prime. The workout is basically a workout of attrition. The whole team starts it and they run a 40 sec 200m (5:20/mile pace) then you do a 30 sec 200m (4:00/mile pace). You keep alternating like that and when you fall off pace, you get pulled. Pre had held the record at Oregon for decades at 20 laps. Rupp went 24. Destroyed a 40 year record. After that news broke, nobody knew what to think. On one hand you have Chelanga who broke last year’s NCAA champ Josh McDougal’s CR at Pre-nats and beat everyone by 40 sec, but then you have Rupp, an Olympian who broke Pre’s 30-40 record. Let’s Run got scared about their guarantee but maintained their position. Later on, Rupp finally raced at Pac-10’s and won the toughest conference in the country by 37 seconds and the West Regional (toughest region in the country) by 51 seconds.
Honestly, my money is on Rupp, the kid is hitting form now instead of in September when Pre-nats was ran. However, obviously Rupp pushed it and Chelanga just cruised his regional meet. So who's fresh?
Ok, I’ve been saying this all year, Oklahoma State will win NCAAs. I’m going out on a limb on this one but I really think it’s gonna happen. Nike U (aka Oregon) is basically like the Yankees of the NCAA XC world. Tons of the top kids go there and get next to nothing in scholarships. Their team is so deep, their second team would be able to compete well with national powers. Last year Oregon won NCAAs fairly easily, they didn’t lose a single person from their top 7 and this year picked up Luke Puskedra from Utah that was one of the top 3 recruits in the country (I’ll talk about him later). You’d think they’d be unbeatable, right? How can the national champs lose when they have everyone back? Well, Oklahoma State finished 3rd last year but they picked up some big talent this year. I would like to throw out a bunch of 5k PRs and XC times for their guys but essentially they got the new 2 mile high school national record holder and the 5th best recruit along with a huge transfer in John Kosgei from LSU. I honestly think the nail in the coffin was the effort each team gave at regionals. Oklahoma St. cruised their top 4 guys and their 5th didn’t even run whereas Oregon basically raced everyone and their guys ran their guts out. I’m a big fan of the underdog, watch for Ok St, they’re gonna run well.
The last main battle this year is among the n00bs. This year’s incoming class has to be one of the best to ever come to the NCAA if not the best. It’s insane. I could go into their respective history to really show what we’re dealing with, but there’s not enough time. I have a test tomorrow. The top 3 ranked teams in the country got at least one of the top 5 freshmen. Oregon got Luke Puskedra (8:40 2 mile, sub 4:10 indoor mile), Oklahoma State got German Fernandez (2 mile NR holder, 4:00 mile) and Colby Lowe (sub 4:10 miler), and Stanford got Chris Derrick (13:55 5k). These three have been battling all season, especially Derrick and Puskedra. In the Pac-10, Puskedra beat Derrick by just a few seconds, but when they moved to 10k at regionals, Derrick won by less than a second. German Fernandez has been flying all season, in fact he beat 2-time NCAA 10k champ, Shadrack Songok at Big XII’s. Many say that he could pull a 3rd place finish. Nats is going to be interesting cuz it’s the first time that all of them will face each other.
That’s about it. It’s gonna be amazing, if you have CSTV, watch it tomorrow starting at 10 am. If not, go to NCAA.com and watch it there.
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