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Chelanga Takes NCAA 5K Title in Final Race

June 11, 2011
|  Des Moines, Iowa
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Liberty's Sam Chelanga celebrates as he crosses the line as the NCAA 5K champion in his final collegiate race. (Photo by Brian Mason)

Redshirt senior Sam Chelanga closed out his Liberty career in grand fashion, capturing the men's 5K title, Saturday afternoon on the final day of competition at the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

After opening up a gap between themselves and the rest of the field, Chelanga, in second place, and Arizona freshman Lawi Lalang, the race leader, exchanged the top spot in the race during the race's third to last lap. Sitting just a stride off the shoulder of the Arizona Wildcat in the second spot, the Liberty senior burst past Lalang to end the exchange and move in front in the event for good. 

With possession of the lead, Chelanga took control the race, opening a gap between himself and Lalang, which the Arizona runner could not make up. Chelanga won his fourth career NCAA title and final event of his Liberty career by 2.39 seconds.

Chelanga's winning time of 13:29.30 was a season-best for the senior. The title is the first at the distance for the Kenyan during his stellar career. He had been the runner-up in the event four times, including last year's outdoor 5K and this year's indoor race. Lalang finished second with a 13:31.69 effort and Iona's Leonard Korir placed third in the race with a time of 13:35.71.

Despite racing less than 24 hours after claiming the runner-up spot in the men's 10K final Friday, Chelanga was able to record the third-fastest 5K winning time in meet history. It was the fastest 5K clocking at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships since Stanford's Ryan Hall clocked a 13:22.32 in 2005.

With the victory, Chelanga ends his Liberty career as a 14-time All-American. The number matches former Liberty distance standout Josh McDougal, who also collected 14 All-America honors during his career as a Flame from 2004-08.

In the opening laps of his title run, Chelanga settled into the middle of the pack and moved forward with Northern Arizona's Diego Estrada, taking the fourth spot among the top five runners during in the third lap of the race.  After moving behind the leader, Lalang, during the middle part of the race, the two runners moved away from the rest of the 24-man field, opening a 15-20 meter gap with four laps to go. 

Chelanga went to the front for the first time during the third to final lap, only to see Lalang close up behind him and take back the lead right before the start of the second to last lap.  Chelanga then blew past his fellow Kenyan in the middle of the lap and opened up some space between the pair. Lalang never challenged over the final lap, as Chelanga went on to take the title by clocking 58.16 seconds for the final lap and 2:01.63 for the final 800 meters.

Liberty totaled 18 points to finish in a four-way tie with Illinois, Texas and USC for 12th place in the final men's team standings at the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. It is the highest NCAA Division I team finish for a track & field squad in school and Big South history, eclipsing the Flames' tie for the 13th position at this meet a year ago.

Texas A&M claimed the men's team national championship by one point, edging Florida State, 54 to 53. for the title. Florida finished two points behind Texas A&M, which also captured the women's team crown, in third place with 52 tallies.

The next meet on Liberty's schedule is the 2011 USA Junior and Senior Outdoor Track & Field Championships, to be contested June 23-26 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Assistant coach Derek Scott is expected to run the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase, while freshman Josh McDonald will run the junior men's 3,000-meter steeplechase. 

Watch Flotrack's post-race interview with Sam Chelanga:

Watch more video of NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships 2011 on flotrack.org