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Chelanga Earns NCAA XC Runner-Up Honors
For the second consecutive year, the Liberty men's cross country team placed a runner in the top two at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. On a cold and blustery Monday afternoon at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind., Flames sophomore Sam Chelanga battled Oregon senior Galen Rupp neck-and-neck, before Rupp edged Chelanga in the final straightaway.
Despite a stiff breeze which dropped the wind chill into the 20s and a slightly soggy terrain, Chelanga (Nairobi, Kenya) and Rupp waged a two-man battle for the ages, reminiscent of last year's NCAA cross country meet, when Rupp dueled Liberty's Josh McDougal to the finish line. However, Rupp reversed the 2007 race result, pulling away from Chelanga in the final 100 meters. His winning 10K time set a new course record of 29:03.2, with Chelanga following closely in 29:08. The sophomore's time cut 14 seconds off the Liberty and Big South Conference 10K records McDougal set while winning the 2007 national title.
Just as he did on the same course at the 2008 Pre-Nationals, Chelanga powered away from the field, immediately after the starter's gun was fired. Chelanga blew through the first kilometer in 2:34 and had opened up a six-second lead by the mile mark, which he passed in 4:21.
Chelanga's 3K split was 8:26, which put him just three seconds ahead of the fast-closing Rupp, donning an uncharacteristic black Oregon uniform. By the fourth kilometer, the two were running side-by-side, well clear of the main pack.
"My original plan was to take the pace out hard and see if I could keep pulling away," Chelanga explained. "However, when that didn't happen, I started to relax and settle in."
Chelanga and Rupp were 17 seconds ahead of the third-place runner at the halfway pole, going through 5K together in 14:28. The runners exchanged a couple surges during the next three miles, but neither gained any separation until the decisive final straightaway.
"When Sam and Galen entered the homestretch side-by-side, I started thinking back to last year," said Liberty head coach Brant Tolsma. "However, I think Galen was thinking about last year too. He really had a strong kick to the finish."
"Entering the last 100 meters, it was 50-50," added Chelanga. "However, I'm not a good kicker, but I gave it my best try."
Chelanga was unable to answer Rupp's final kick and crossed the line in second place, garnering his third career All-America certificate and first as a Liberty student-athlete. It was a measured improvement from his 16th-place showing as a freshman in 2006, and his 29:08.0 clocking was a cross country 10K personal best by 45 seconds.
"I'm satisfied with my performance," noted Chelanga. "Galen is a good competitor. I'm happy with where I am right now. It was fun."
"It was definitely a great race by both competitors," said Tolsma.
Rupp, who placed 13th in the men's 10,000-meter final at the Beijing Olympics, representing the United States, captured his long-awaited first NCAA national championship on Monday. He became Oregon's first individual national cross country champion since his long-time coach, Alberto Salazar, won the 1978 title. Rupp also helped Oregon repeat as men's team champions, with a 93-147 gap over surprise runner-up, Iona.
"I tried to conserve my energy for as long as possible," stated Rupp. "I knew I wanted to make one decisive move and take it all the way to the finish line."
Also competing for the Flames on Monday was Jordan McDougal (R-Sr., Peru, N.Y.), making his first NCAA national meet appearance. He finished 217th overall in his final collegiate cross country race, with an official time of 32:03.1
Men's 10K Championship
Individual Results (252 total finishers in race):
1) Galen Rupp, Oregon, 29:03.2 (Course Record)
2) Sam Chelanga, Liberty, 29:08.0 (Liberty and Big South Record)
3) Andrew Ledwith, Iona, 29:25.4
4) David Kinsella, Portland, 29:26.5
5) Luke Puskedra, Oregon, 29:27.8
217) Jordan McDougal, Liberty, 32:03.1
Team Standings (31 total teams):
1) Oregon, 93
2) Iona, 147
3) Stanford, 227
4) Wisconsin, 229
5) Auburn, 264