Can Kennedy Kithuka Beat Lawi Lalang?
It’s a match-up between the top runner in the country, the defending national champion, the runner no one was expected to beat all fall, against the newcomer, the runner who’s come out of nowhere, dominating the competition all fall. The defending champ has run roughshod over his competitors all season long, heading to nationals undefeated once again, winning by 36 seconds at the West Regional. The challenger won by 19 seconds at the Mountain Regional, easily breaking 30 minutes for 10k at 5,000 feet.
Lalang was crowned pre-season favorite heading into the 2012 cross country season, as few thought there would be a challenger who could knock off the defending champion., but Kithuka has risen to that spot, as the Wayland Baptist transfer looks to claim his first DI national title.
Where do these two line up?
Lalang has been as dominant as he was last fall when he won the national title over a field that included Olympians (Cam Levins and Mo Ahmed) and perhaps the strongest group of American distance talent in some time (Chris Derrick, Luke Puskedra, German Fernandez, etc.).
All season long Lalang has impressed. At the Greater Louisville Classic, Lalang won the 8k race in 22:33, beating his teammate Stephen Sambu by three seconds, but beating top-five threat Paul Chelimo (Jr., UNC-Greensboro) by 26 seconds. Following that up, Lalang won the Wisconsin adidas Invitational in 23:03, four seconds over Sambu and 22 seconds over the third place finisher.
At this point, you might be asking why Sambu isn’t the top threat to Lalang. Well, it could be because Lalang easily beat his teammate at the West Regional by 36 seconds. It also could be that Lalang has beaten Sambu all season long, as the two have run stride for stride for nearly every race, but many thinking Lalang was simply holding back. Sambu will challenge for second, no question about it, but this battle between Lalang and Kithuka is more of a battle about the defending champion versus the unknown challenger.
Meanwhile, Kithuka has simply destroyed his competition this fall. While he won this past weekend’s Mountain Regional with ease, his most impressive performances came at the Chile Pepper Invitational and the Big 12 Championships. Kithuka won Chile Pepper by 1:20, crossing the finish line in an incredible 28:53 (10k), ahead of runner-up Girma Mecheso (Oklahoma State), who’s a top ten threat in his own right this coming week.
At the Big 12 Championships, Kithuka once again finished well ahead of runner-up Mecheso, this time running 22:52.8 (8k) and winning by 1:06. He won by over a minute in an 8k against runners who will be vying for top 10-15 places at nationals!
The battle that’s shaping up is terrific. Lalang is the experienced champion, who has a sidekick in Sambu, that could help him throughout the race. Kithuka is the NAIA transfer who’s improved to another level this fall, ready to take on whatever comes his way. Louisville is shaping up to be one to remember.