It feels like we haven’t had a normal NCAA Indoor Championships since March 2019! Remember when Harvard was the first to pull out of the meet in 2020 and everyone was so mad at them? I guess the nerds were right…
Unfortunately, the last-minute cancellation of that event wasn’t enough to stop the worldwide pandemic, but doggonit, it’s good to be back! I don’t mean to discount the 2021 iteration of this meet, but I just don’t know how you can pretend to call yourself an NCAA champion if you didn’t have to beat the Ivy League to do it. (This is a joke, please don’t email me.)
Anyway, it is Wednesday morning, so if by now you aren’t aware of what happened, the odds are you don’t care THAT much. If you’d like to watch what you missed, the NCAA YouTube channel has shared just about everything. Using views as a barometer of what to replay first, as of Tuesday night the most viewed videos are the men’s 4×400 and 200m at 84K each. If you don’t have time for all that, I’ll give you the spark notes and some talking points for the water cooler. (If you don’t chat about the meet around the water cooler with your normal co-workers then please do email me.)
- BYU’s Courtney Wayment won the women’s 5000m in 15:30.17, her third NCAA title. She finished fourth in the Olympic Trials steeplechase and is well-positioned to become a regular on future international teams.
- NAU’s Abdihamid Nur doubled up to win the men’s 5000m (13:19.01) in a meet record and the 3000m (7:59.88) to show off his range as someone who can win fast races and slow ones. In both races he had a knack for controlling things from the front over the final laps in a Mo Farah-esque manner.
- Florida’s Jasmine Moore broke her own collegiate triple jump record (14.57m) in addition to winning the long jump (6.57m) to help lead the Gators to the team title.
- After a couple of years of adjusting to the NCAA, NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy is starting to find her footing — she finished a close second in both the 5000m (15:30.63) and 3000m (8:59.20). As arguably the best high school cross country runner ever, there were — naturally — expectations for her to perform similarly at the next level. But if history has taught us anything it’s that when it comes to young stars, early success unfortunately doesn’t always translate to long careers. No races put a bigger smile on my face this weekend than Tuohy’s.
- The 60m was run twice after a recall. The problem with a six-second race is that by the time you realize the gun has been fired again it’s over. Fortunately, USC’s Davonte Burnett (6.50) won on both occasions!
- The Arkansas women (10:51.37) and Texas men (9:25.20) won the DMRs. Texas anchor Yaseen Abdalla just narrowly missed making the meet in the mile and 3000m, but the Longhorn walk-on used his fresh legs to hold off Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse, which leads us to the following bullet point.
- For the first time in school history, the Texas Longhorn men won the team title. Hook ‘em, to those who celebrate!
FAVORITE RACE: MEN’S MILE
Not to play favorites here, but if there’s one event worth analyzing a bit more from the weekend, it’s the men’s mile. Coming in, Mario Garcia Romo from Ole Miss/Spain had the second fastest time on paper behind Michigan State’s Morgan Beadlescomb. However, time on paper only tells part of the story. Although Beadlescomb’s 3:52.03 is faster than Garcia Romo’s 3:53.36 — feel free to check my math there — one was run getting towed along in an American Record attempt and the other came winning by a full second over four collegiates who would also make the NCAA final.
One of the most common misconceptions about tactical races, especially ones that are eventually won in a time like 4:07.54, is that it’s a crap shoot and the best guy doesn’t necessarily win. That not only discounts the fact that tactics are a huge part of the event, otherwise it’d be run in lanes, but it also ignores the fitness required to sprint faster than everyone else at the end of a mile. For the thousandth time, that’s not about speed, it’s strength! In a world where super spikes, fast tracks, pacing lights and time trials grab all the limelight, wasn’t it refreshing to watch a race and not the clock?
After watching Garcia Romo, my initial reaction was that he ran one of the more tactically sound and beautiful races I’ve ever seen. In his post-race interview he gives a nod to Matt Centrowitz’s ability to lead the 2016 Olympic final from the front, and it’s quite obvious that he studied the game film. The NCAA mile is often won by leading the entire thing, wire-to-wire (Purrier 2018, Kerr 2017, Wynne 2016, O’Connor 2015, Coburn 2013, O’Hare 2012, Emmanuel 2010). Compared to other events, it’s harder to make passes in a mile on the banked turns because of the consistently fast pace and the number of athletes jockeying for position.
Garcia Romo executed in all the right ways. First, he established dominance early. Once the initial sprint off the line began to settle he ran an extra few steps harder than everyone else to take control at the front. Then once it became apparent that no one wanted to make it fast, he allowed it to get slow. In the first half mile, the pace gradually fell off (30.7 – 32.4 – 33.9 – 34.7) and while he was cruising easily, and unencumbered, those behind him were shoving each other and running more tensely.
Then as things started to inch closer to the point where someone may have tried to contend for the lead, he checked his peripherals and looked for that move over his right shoulder. The whole time Garcia Romo was running in the middle to outside of lane one, meaning there wasn’t enough room for anyone else to go inside and it’d take an even wider run to go around. The shift was slight, but if you watch the race carefully he surged slightly on straightaways and then settled through the curves.
And finally, when it just about came time to kick, he began to wind things up progressively. Had he waited too long, then someone could have made an aggressive move to the front like we saw in the women’s mile from Colorado’s Micaela Degenero. She was able to jump the whole field just before the 1200m mark — the leaders had settled into running 34s and 35s, so she surprised the hell out of them when she dropped a 30.6 on the penultimate lap to open up a second-plus lead with 200m remaining. Compare that to Romo’s final 600m splits of 28.8 — 27.4 — 25.8. Since he was steadily picking it up, the whole field was content to follow. Although five guys ran a faster last lap than him, Garcia Romo won because the first 1409 meters also matter.
But even the most beautifully executed race isn’t necessarily perfect. Mario did make one mistake. When he came onto the final straightaway he drifted outside. Had Reed Brown had the tiniest bit of gas left, then there was an open hole for him to take (cue Nick Willis saying the rail always opens up). Remember kids, the best route around the track is always the shortest one!