Sam Chelanga celebrates as he nears the finish line as the NCAA's back-to-back national men's cross country champion. (Photo courtesy Jim Galen)
Watch a postrace interview with Sam Chelanga (Courtesy of Flotrack.org) Watch NCAA race highlights (Courtesy of Flotrack.org) Sam Chelanga named Florunner of the Year (Courtesy of Flotrack.org) Liberty redshirt senior Sam Chelanga battled Arizona's Stephen Sambu throughout Monday afternoon's NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. In the end, Chelanga outkicked Sambu down the final straightaway, into a stiff breeze, claiming his second consecutive NCAA national title in his final collegiate cross country race. Chelanga's winning 10K time was 29:22.2, putting him just ahead of Sambu, who crossed the line in 29:26.5. Chelanga becomes the 10th men's runner in meet history to win back-to-back national championships, and the first since Wisconsin's Simon Bairu in 2004 and 2005. His title also makes Liberty only the ninth school ever to capture at least three NCAA men's cross country individual titles, including Josh McDougal's championship in 2007. Chelanga is now a three-time NCAA Division I national champion, also including his 10K crown at the 2010 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. However, this title came in a much different fashion than the previous two, which he won by a combined 43 seconds. Sambu, a 12-time NJCAA national champion at Rend Lake Community College, made a strong bid for his first NCAA national title with the Wildcats. Chelanga dictated the pace during most of the race, culling the lead pack to just six runners after a 4:37 opening mile. The native of Nairobi, Kenya surged about a half mile later, bringing only Sambu and Oregon's Luke Puskedra along with him. The trio went through 5K in 14:36.4, 10 seconds ahead of fourth place. Shortly thereafter, Chelanga picked up the tempo once again, leaving Puskedra in his wake and making it a spirited two-man race for the last three miles. In a scene reminiscent of his 2008 battle with Oregon's Galen Rupp on the same course, Chelanga entered the 500-meter closing straightaway shoulder-to-shoulder with Sambu. This time around, Chelanga had the superior finishing kick into the teeth of a wind that gusted over 20 mph at times, pulling away from Sambu before raising his right arm in triumph as he crossed the line. The hard-fought victory wrapped up an unbeaten season for Chelanga and makes him a 10-time All-American, spanning cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. He is also just the seventh men's runner in meet history to record three top-two individual finishes, and the first since Washington State's Henry Rono (1976-77 & 1979). Also earning All-America honors for the Flames on Monday was redshirt senior Evans Kigen. He clocked a 30:21.4 to finish 31st place overall out of 246 finishers. It is the second straight All-America performance at this meet for Kigen, who came in 20th a year ago.