Distance Event Previews: Pac-10 Track & Field Championships

TUCSON, Ariz. - The University of Arizona will host the 2011 Pac-10 Track and Field Championships, Fri., May 13, and Sat., May. 14, at Roy P. Drachman Stadium. This weekend's distance races will feature some of the NCAA's top competitors in every event. The Pac-10 has produced some of the greatest distance runners in the history of the sport.  Names like Bernard Lagat, Henry Rono, Galen Rupp, Lauren Fleshman and Amy Skieresz have all hailed from the "Conference of Champions" and the 2011 distance field is as stacked as ever. Here's a preview of the distance races:


Middle Distance

The men's middle distance events will be looking for a new champion this year with the departure of Oregon's Andrew Wheating, the 2010 NCAA Champion at 800 and 1500 meters. UCLA senior All-American Cory Primm has set the bar in the 800-meter run this season, posting the conference's fastest time this season and the third-fastest NCAA time at 1:46.20, over a second faster than Oregon freshman Boru Guyota, who has the second-fastest outdoor time this season in 1:47.75. There could be another Duck in the mix, as UO sophomore Elijah Greer posted a time of 1:47.02 indoors this season.


The men's 1,500-meter run could be anyone's race, with the top-six student-athletes coming in with times within two seconds of each other. A pair of Wildcats lead the entries, with Arizona's freshman phenom Lawi Lalang leading the pack with a time of 3:41.42, though that seed is converted from his best time in the indoor mile this season. Lalang's teammate, Abdi Hassan, has the conference's fastest outdoor time this year in 3:41.57. Oregon's Matthew Centrowitz, Washington's Joey Bywater and Stanford's Andrew Berberick have all gone under 3:43 this year, too.


The women's 800-meters was one of the most exciting events at last year's Pac-10 Championships, with Oregon's Anne Kesselring edging Arizona's Christina Rodgers at the line for the title. This year is shaping up to be a rematch of the two All-Americans who come in with the top two Pac-10 times. Kesselring leads the nation with her season-best of 2:02.44 while Rodgers' 2:03.93 is good for the fourth-best time in the country.


Kesselring also comes in with the conference's second-best time at 1,500 meters with a mile-converted 4:14.59 from the indoor season but all signs point to a field that will be chasing another Oregon athlete. Sophomore Jordan Hasay leads the nation in the event with her season-best of 4:10.28, which also happens to be the second-best time in Pac-10 history and she will be the favorite to take her first 1,500 meter conference crown.


Long Distance

The men's 3,000-meter steeplechase will also feature an NCAA-leading Oregon student-athlete in senior Steve Finley.  Finley clocked a season-best time of 8:36.98 and that time is 12 seconds fastest than any other student-athlete entered in the event this weekend. Stanford's Benjamin Johnson (8:48.46) and John Sullivan (8:48.82) have the next two fastest times coming in the meet.


The men's 5,000-meter run should be one of the most competitive races of the weekend, featuring five runners ranked in the top 10 on the NCAA descending order list. Stanford All-American Elliot Heath has the nation's best time outdoors in 13:26.14 and is followed closely by teammate Chris Derrick (13:29.74). Arizona will have two newcomers looking to interrupt the Stanford sweep. UA junior college transfer Stephen Sambu finished third in the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships where he finished in 13:28.48 and has the sixth-fastest time in the nation outdoors this season in 13:34.19. Fellow Wildcat Lalang has run only one 5,000-meter run in his life and he ran it in 13:34.62 for the eighth-fastest time in the nation. This race shapes up to be a battle of Stanford and Arizona and, with both in the hunt for the overall team championship, could be one of the most important races of the weekend.


Sambu comes into the weekend with the fastest 10,000-meter time in the nation and ninth-fastest in the world. His time of 27:28.64 at the Payton Jordan Invitational is the second-fastest time in Pac-10 history and is over a minute faster than any other Pac-10 student-athlete has run the event this season. While Sambu might be the overwhelming favorite, Stanford fields the next four fastest times in the conference (Heath, Jake Riley, Derrick and Kevin Havel) and this event could garner the Cardinal some pivotal points towards the team race if they can maintain those positions on Friday.


The women's 3,000-meter steeplechase features some more Ducks as UO senior Claire Michel leads the conference with her season-best of 10:04.65, 11 seconds faster than the next closest entry, teammate Melanie Thompson. The 5,000-meter run will feature the aforementioned Hasay chasing her second conference title. She enters with the nation's second-fastest time in 15:37.29 and will be favored in this event as well, with the second-ranked competitor, Arizona's Jennifer Bergman, sitting well behind that time with her season best of 16:04.72.


Bergman does, however, enter as the conference's top seed in the 10,000 meters this weekend, clocking a time of 33:38.81 earlier this season - the 15th-fastest time in the NCAA this year.  Washington's Lindsay Flanagan will be giving chase as she enters with the second-fastest time in 33:42.50.


For continued coverage of the 2011 Pac-10 Track and Field Championships, visit pac-10.org or ArizonaWildcats.com.

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