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Is Lawi Lalang the Odds on Favorite to Win in Louisville?

Published by
Scott Bush   on Sep 1 2012, 07:14 PM

The 2011 cross country season was dominated by Arizona sensation Lawi Lalang (Jr., Arizona). Lalang proved race after race that he was simply unbeatable.  His long, fluid stride ran well over the hills and terrain of cross country fields, while stamping his place in history in Terre Haute, as he ran to a 13 second win over a very tough field. Even more astonishing was his 12 second lead by the 5k mark. It was one of the most dominating NCAA performances in recent memory.

Then came indoor track. Lalang showed once again why he was the top collegiate distance runner, winning both the 3k and 5k at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, while running the number four indoor mile time in NCAA history with his 3:55..09 performance at the Razorback Invitational. To top it off, the Kenyan sensation broke the collegiate indoor 5k record, with his 13:08 performance at the Millrose Games.

Then outdoor track came and Lalang suddenly seemed beatable, although not by much. He ran a highly impressive new 1,500m PR to place fourth at the Payton Jordan Invitational in 3:36.77, while finishing second at Mt. SAC in the 5k with a 13:18.88 clocking. The season was progressing nicely, but little did fans know that Lalang came down with a minor leg injury. This effected him at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, where he finished third in the 5k and 11th in the 1,500m.

Now fully healthy, Lalang heads into the fall once again the odds-on-favorite to win the NCAA individual crown.  He’ll have plenty of challengers throughout the season, but his biggest challenger could be his own teammate, Stephen Sambu (Sr., Arizona). Many overlook his 13:13 5k clocking at the Millrose Games. Lalang stole the show, but Sambu’s time was the second best indoor 5k time in collegiate history. During the outdoor season, Sambu earned a runner-up finish in the men’s 10k, while finishing a strong 5th in the 5k.

Sambu and Lalang should duke it out numerous times this fall. It’ll be interesting to see how Arizona coach James Li balances the two athletes. Will they run together for the majority of their races, then it’s every man for himself over the final mile? Will Li stagger the two for most of the season, only having them come together in the biggest of meets? It will be a fun dynamic to watch.

Behind Lalang and Sambu, Henry Lelei (Sr., Texas A&M) should rise to the challenge. The Aggie standout had an impressive spring on the track, and one needs to remember that Lelei placed ninth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 2011.

Another Kenyan, Paul Chelimo (Jr., UNC-Greensboro) will be up front mixing it up. Chelimo is the number four returnee this fall, after finishing 13th at the NCAA Championships in 2011. Chelimo ran a terrific this past spring, where he finished runner-up in the 5k. Another summer of base building and Chelimo seems poised to take another big step forward.

The last of Lalang’s main competition is Mohammed Ahmed (Sr., Wisconsin). Wisconsin coach Mick Byrne has said that Ahmed may not race for the Badgers this fall after a long track season, which saw him compete for Team Canada in the Olympics, where he competed in the 10k. Ahmed finished fifth in 2011 at the NCAA XC Championships and is the top returnee behind Lalang. Ahmed is as strong as they get. If he does choose to race this fall, he’ll most certainly push Lalang and the rest of the lead pack.

Entering the season, it’s clear that Lalang is the favorite. All eyes will be on him to see if he can repeat as champion. He’ll have plenty of contenders on his heels, but if he continues the improvement he’s shown over the past two years, he’s basically unstoppable.

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With the cross country season kicking off around the country, we're tackling ten burning questions heading into the 2012 campaign. These questions cover both the high school and college levels. Check back each day as we provide some answers to the questions.

Question 1: Who Will Be The Top American Male Finisher at the NCAA XC Championships?
Question 2: Will Erin Finn and Sarah Baxter Face Off This Fall?

Question 3: How Close Will The Boys Race Be At NXN?
Question 4: Which Team Will Win the NCAA Women's Title?
Question 5: Can Wisconsin Repeat as NCAA Men's Champions?
Question 6: Can Fayetteville-Manlius Repeat as Girls' National Champions...Again?
Question 7: Can Edward Cheserek Maintain His XC Dominance?

Question 8: Can Jordan Hasay Win the Women's XC Title?

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1 comment(s)  
smit2309
Lelei was fourth in the steeple. Levins and Korir were right on Lalang's ass @ 5k.
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