BYU capped off a brilliant first day at the NCAA Track and Field Championships by taking three of the top four places in the 10,000-meter run Wednesday night in Austin, Texas.
Clayton Young, a senior from American Fork, outsprinted Alabama’s Gilbert Kigen over the final 200 meters to claim a national championship. Young held off Kigen around the final turn and then pulled away in the homestretch, finishing with a time of 29:16.00, nearly two seconds ahead of his challenger (29:18.10).
Teammates Connor McMillan, another senior from American Fork, and Conner Mantz, a freshman from Smithfield, took the next two places, respectively, with times of 29:19.85 and 29:19.93.
“That is the kind of race that brings tears to your eyes,” said BYU coach Ed Eyestone, who had to pause to collect his emotions. “They come few and far between. To have three of the guys rise up like that, that’s why we coach. That is why we coach.”
BYU entered the meet ranked fourth in the latest national polls and then backed up that ranking with their showing on Day 1 of the NCAA meet, which consisted of the men’s competition, most of it trials. The women take the stage Thursday and then the men return Friday for the finals.
“It was an amazing day,” said Eyestone, who was the last BYU athlete to win the 10,000-meter race at the NCAA championships — in 1984 and 1985.
Earlier in the day, all four of BYU’s entrants in the 3,000-meter steeplechase advanced to the final — junior Jacob Heslington, sophomore Matt Owens, freshman Kenneth Rooks and junior Clayson Shumway. The latter three finished third, fourth and fifth in a mad dash to the finish in the second heat. The top five runners were separated by less than one second.
Talem Franco, a junior from Heber, advanced to the 12-man finals of the 1,500-meter run by finishing with the third fastest time in the trials, 3:44.46. The first seven runners were separated by less than a half-second.
Brian Matthews, a BYU junior, completed the first day of the decathlon in 14th place with one of his best performances (3,860 points). It was a dramatic improvement for an athlete who ranked 24th out of 24 qualifiers for the meet.
The only event that didn’t go BYU’s way was the 4 x 400. The BYU team of Michael Bluth, Colten Yardley, Adam Schaap and Blake Ellis finished 19th with a time of 3:08.02, losing split seconds on an awkward handoff.
The Cougars set an NCAA record by qualifying six athletes for the 10,000-meter final — the most ever to qualify for any event. They approached the race in Austin with some trepidation because of the heat and humidity. The temperature was mild (80 degrees) but the humidity was high because of a recent rainstorm.
Eyestone knew all about those conditions from his days as an All-American runner. As a BYU freshman in 1982, he was running the 10,000-meter final in the NCAA championships in Austin when he succumbed to the heat. He never reached the final and had to be carried off the track. He returned for the NCAA meet four years later, again in Austin, and won both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs.
He discussed his experiences with his runners this week. He also had them take a variety of precautions — shortening their pre-race warmup, during which they wore ice-filled cooling vests and carried ice packs in their hands.
They also had experienced disappointment in this race. In last year’s NCAA championship's 10,000, BYU’s Mantz, Young and Rory Linkletter finished 22nd, 23rd and 24th, respectively, in a 24-man field. This time was different. They bided their time in the pack, conserving energy, and then broke with the lead pack in the latter stages of the race before surging to take three of the of the top four places — which is worth 21 points in the team scoring.
“It was a storybook ending for Clayton, to finish one of his last (collegiate) races with a championship,” said Eyestone.
Young's victory marked the first time BYU has claimed an individual NCAA championship since Kyle Perry won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2009. Here's an all-time list.
Linkletter, who won the NCAA prelims in Sacramento a couple of weeks ago, seemed to struggle with the heat and finished 15th, followed by teammates Dallin Farnsworth (21st) and Connor Weaver (23rd).
A number of other Utah in-state athletes also competed Wednesday.
- Sindri Gudmundsson, a junior from Utah State, finished fourth in the javelin with a throw of 242 feet, 6 inches. The event was won by Anderson Peters of Mississippi State with an NCAA meet-record throw of 284-2. Skyler Porcaro, a Southern Utah junior, was 16th at 218-9.
- Southern Utah’s Kasey Knevelbaard qualified for the 1,500-meter final, clocking 3:46.47.
- SUU’s George Espino finished 19th in the 800-meter run trials with a time of 1:51.14, which placed him 19th.