In 2013 when I was competing at the University of Texas, we had a distance medley relay team solo a 9:31.82 — a time that had qualified for NCAAs every year before. Considering it had been the number one time in the country for six weeks, we ultimately decided that there was no need to go race it again. Let everyone else go travel another weekend and we’ll be fresh for the Big Dance! Or so we thought.
While I wasn’t on that initial team that had gotten us in such good position, my body had healed up and my fitness had come around, so the plan was for me to be one of the few fresh anchor legs at NCAAs. We had realistic ambitions to win the title as the whole squad gathered in our living room to watch the Alex Wilson Invitational in Notre Dame. We tuned in more as a formality, just to see who we’d be lining up against. And it was a viewing party to remember — 14 teams spread across two heats knocked us out of qualifying position. So instead of ripping off a celebratory victory lap, when the day of the NCAA DMR came around I sat at home and watched the worst possible scenario unfold…four of my former arch nemeses from Princeton won instead.
The DMR times were a changin’ then, and they’ve really a-changed now! After this weekend, the 12th fastest time in the NCAA is 9:24.56. Consider that the indoor world best was 9:25.97 up until 2020, and that this is an event that’s hotly contested every indoor season across several fast races.
The best time in the country is now a full ten seconds faster than what I thought was a safe bet to qualify back in 2013 — Washington’s 9:21.10, thanks to a 3:52 anchor from Brian Fahy at the Arkansas Qualifier. But close behind them is the Yared Nuguse squad that posted a 9:21.73 at their home invitational at Notre Dame.
The strange thing is that we aren’t seeing the same type of time breakthroughs on the women’s side, at least from a depth perspective. Granted there are still conference meets this weekend, but as of today, the women aren’t running as unprecedentedly fast as the men are in events centered around the mile, like the DMR, and well…the mile.
At the very top end of the NCAA women are running the fastest marks in history, but behind those record-breaking performances, there have been similar qualifying cutoffs in the past (highlighted above).
There are plenty of theories speculating why this might be, but I must respectfully disagree with Nick Willis — sub-4:32 is not sub-4 for women. 77 men have broken that barrier this year, but only two women have dipped below the “equivalent.”
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