Cardama Baez Wins 10k Title
EUGENE, Ore. — Two years after a breakthrough performance that led to a second-place finish in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor championships, Oregon senior Carmela Cardama Baez fulfilled a dream by winning a national title at Hayward Field.
Cardama Baez, a senior from Spain, began dreaming of competing at Hayward Field as a high school sophomore. Multiple attempts to compete at the hallowed venue with a championship on the line fell short in the ensuing years, and her second-place finish in the 10k in 2019 took place in Austin, Texas, while Oregon's facility was being remodeled.
But on Thursday night, Cardama Baez surged into the lead with two laps left and gapped runner-up Mercy Chelangat of Alabama to win the national title in a personal-best 32 minutes, 16.13 seconds.
"It means so much, because it's been a long process," said Cardama Baez, who crossed the finish line six seconds ahead of Chelangat after drafting off the Alabama sophomore for much of the final 4,000 meters. "To finally get this today with my people — with my parents watching from home, with my friends screaming from the sidelines — it means a lot. It's a reminder of how long it takes, but also how many people you need in your corner."
The national title by Cardama Baez was the highlight of Oregon's second day of competition at the national meet, which saw both the men's and women's programs score their first points of the week. The UO women also got a fifth-place finish in the long jump from freshman Alysah Hickey, the Pac-12 champion, to finish the day second in the team race with 14 points, six less than Georgia.
The men got their first point of the meet from Max Vollmer, who took eighth in the decathlon; the men's portion of the meet concludes Friday evening.
Thursday also saw the Oregon women's 4x100-meter relay team post a season best of 42.86 seconds to reach Saturday's final, and a PR from Aneta Konieczek in the 3,000-meter steeplechase as she advanced in 9:34.37. Kemba Nelson, who ran the second leg on the 4x100, also advanced to Saturday's final in the 100 meters. She won her heat in 11.13 seconds, despite a slight headwind.
Jasmin Reed wasn't able to advance and join Nelson in the 100 final, and Rhesa Foster came up short of providing points along with Hickey in the long jump. Lauri Paredes also experienced disappointment in the javelin, finishing 17th with a mark of 168 feet, 10 inches.
But the evening ended on the highest of notes for Oregon, thanks to the national championship by Cardama Baez.
Most of the field in the 10,000 ran together for the first half of the race, but then separation began to develop. With about 4,000 to go, Cardama Baez moved up in the homestretch of Hayward Field from seventh to third and tucked in behind Chelangat, who won the NCAA cross country title in March.
Cardama Baez moved up to second with eight laps remaining, and the two separated from the rest of the pack with about six to go. Wary that Chelangat might have a better finishing kick, Cardama Baez looked to create some separation over the final 800, and she took the lead before pulling away with about 200 to go.
Cardama Baez said she's been working with UO distance coach Helen Lehman-Winters on "not just making a move, but making it progressive once you're running that faster pace. I've been getting so much better at that the last two years, and that really played out today."
Two years ago in Texas, Cardama Baez was the one who got gapped. She finished well to close the gap and trail the winner by less than a second, and while Cardama Baez called that a "breakthrough race" that helped her believe in herself, she also has waited two years to prove she could not only compete for a national title but win one.
"I built a lot of pressure on myself and wanted to do really well — wanted to prove something," she said. "Once I started the championship season, and I won Pac-12s and focused on really having fun with that, and going to regionals and having a plan and having fun, the pressure went down. Today I was happy to be here.
"Today was my last race as a Duck. Tomorrow is my last final at Oregon. There's just a lot to celebrate."
Hickey also had much to celebrate, after a clutch performance to provide points in the long jump. Entering her final jump of the preliminary round, she was in 15th place, not in position to earn three more attempts. But she soared 21 feet, 4 inches on her third attempt, which held up as her best of six marks for a fifth-place finish.
"I talk to myself a lot when I jump so I was just talking and being dead honest with myself: 'You have to put this together right now or else you're going to embarrass yourself,' " Hickey said. "I needed the self-criticism but I was also saying, 'You got this.' Looking around, I wanted to do it for everyone. If it was going to end, I wanted to feel like I did all I could, so I got the clap going and had Eugene behind me so it was great."
Thursday's meet was conducted with 5,085 fans in attendance, the most yet since refurbished Hayward Field was unveiled.
"When I was watching (Friday), I found myself looking around at everybody because there were so many people," Hickey said. "Today, when they were taking us through the tunnel, I could feel the rumble from the crowd but it was making me excited. I wasn't really nervous. I had fun and got to compete with Rhesa (Foster), who is the best training partner I've ever had. It was good to have her alongside me out there."
Hickey wrapped up her series in the long jump with the 10,000 meters already underway. Within about 20 minutes of Hickey providing the first points of the meet for the UO women, Cardama Baez provided their first individual title, to the delight of that crowd.
"It's something we say a lot but it's still really true — the magic of Hayward Field is in the fans," Cardama Baez said. "We need them — need the sounds, need the clapping, need the screaming. They make this place, and it's awesome."
FULL UO RESULTS
2021 NCAA Championships
Day 2 – Women's Semifinals + Decathlon
Hayward Field (Eugene, Ore.)
2. Kemba Nelson – 11.13 (-0.5) – q
20. Jasmin Reed – 11.60 (-0.9)
1. Carmela Cardama Baez – 32:16.13 (PR) [10 points]
2. Aneta Konieczek – 9:34.37 (PR) [No. 7 NCAA] – q
2. Mays/Nelson/Reed/White – 42.86 (SB) – q
5. Alysah Hickey – 6.50m/21-4 [4 points]
15. Rhesa Foster – 6.26m/20-6.5
17. Lauri Paredes – 51.46m/168-10
Decathlon | Day 2 + Total
8. Max Vollmer – 7,633 points [1 point]
14. 110m Hurdles – 15.08 
19. Discus – 35.48m/116-5 
7. Pole Vault – 4.61m/15-1.5 
3. Javelin – 59.21m/194-3 (SB) 
18. 1,500 Meters – 4:59.72