Can The King Be Dethroned?

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With conference championships coming up and athletes looking to get their last minute qualifying times in, there is one particular story line that many in the track and field world want to see develop.

Everyone loves an underdog, and Oregon’s Edward Cheserek is anything but that. Only a sophomore, he already has more titles (seven) than anyone he is competing against. Cheserek has shown that he has the speed to compete with the best milers, boasting a 3:56 indoor mile. He has also shown he is king of the distances by winning NCAA championships in cross country not only once, but twice.

Cheserek, Jenkins, and Dunbar giving the home crowd what they want after a successful race

Gary Breedlove

Cheserek, Jenkins, and Dunbar giving the home crowd what they want after a successful race.

Non-Duck fans all raced to claim Cheserek is beatable when Jordan Williamsz from Villanova out-kicked Cheserek in that fluke incident at the Penn Relays. But was that race a true measure of Cheserek’s talent?

Short answer: of course not. Anyone who has seen Cheserek race knows he does not lose his wheels at the end of a race. The only guy ever to beat him straight up – Lawi Lalang —is now a professional runner for Nike and has competed for the Kenyan national team.

Cheserek raced Williamsz the day before the 4 x mile in the distance medley relay. He won hands down. Williamsz is a middle distance man, preferring to run the 800 and 1500. When you jog against a guy like that for three-quarters of a mile and do not make a move until 300 meters to go — as Cheserek did in the 4 x mile relay, he is going to have much faster leg speed compared to a long distance event.

Cheserek, meanwhile, is a strong distance runner who can break out into a fast kick no matter how hard he has run up to that point. In other words, the race with Williamsz in the final leg of the 4 x mile was not indicative of who is truly the best miler; instead, due to Cheserek’s pacing error, it was about who could run the fastest 300 meters.

Cheserek will not let that happen again. During the last indoor season Cheserek had to run three sub-4 minute miles before he finally lost to teammate Eric Jenkins in the 3000-meter race. And I can pretty much guarantee that if the man in front of Cheserek in that 3000 meter was not wearing an Oregon uniform, Cheserek would not have settled for second.

So will the king go down? Another short answer is appropriate: no. Cheserek is the prototype runner. He can compete in the 800 meter all the way up to the 10,000 meter; no one in the NCAA boasts his kind of range.

The only man to beat Cheserek in an honest race, Lawi Lalang.

Gary Breedlove

The only man to beat Cheserek in an honest race, Lawi Lalang.

Last weekend at the Oregon Twilight meet, Cheserek ran in the 3000 meter and won over former teammate Trevor Dunbar, who now runs professionally for Nike. After the race, Cheserek said, “I just wanted to go out and have fun and not worry about the time and not run fast just run slow.” He ran slow –and won in 7:57.

Unfortunately for those who think Cheserek is a false king, he will not have a rematch with Williamsz this year. Cheserek is not a miler, even though he proved to be the fastest during the last indoor season. Instead, he and Jenkins are going to run the 5,000 meter and 10,000-meter races at the PAC-12 championships, and hopefully qualify for NCAAs.

In my personal opinion, Jenkins is the only one who stands a chance to beat Cheserek. Aside from the Williamsz fluke during the Penn Relays, Jenkins is the only person to previously beat Cheserek. He knows how Cheserek trains, and thus knows Cheserek’s strengths and weaknesses.

No doubt though, the Ducks are a closely knit team and are not out to beat each other on race day. Both Jenkins and Cheserek have said that the team comes first over individual titles. The fact of the matter is, whoever crosses the finish line first (and probably second) in the 5,000 and the 10,000 will be wearing an Oregon uniform.

Top photo by Scott Kelly

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