Titles Elusive For Men Of Oregon
EUGENE, Ore. — When it came to Oregon's mood at the end of Friday's session of the NCAA Outdoor Championships, triple jumper Emmanuel Ihemeje perhaps summed it up best.
Ihemeje was one of three Ducks to compete on the final day of the men's portion of the meet, and he wasn't the only one of the three with national championship aspirations. But ultimately it was not to be for Ihemeje, nor for Micah Williams in the 100 meters or Aaron Bienenfeld in the 5,000.
"I feel good — and frustrated a little bit," Ihemeje said after finishing as runner-up in the triple jump, ending his string of three straight national titles in the event. "Good because I did my season best. Little by little my season is going to crescendo, and I can see the marks and results coming. A little bit frustrated because I couldn't express myself how I wanted to. But it's OK."
That was the story of Friday at Hayward Field for the Ducks — solid performances by the three Men of Oregon in action, but not quite what any had hoped to produce.
Williams ran the fastest time in Wednesday's preliminary heats of the 100 meters. But when it came time for Friday's final, he didn't get out to his typically explosive start and settled for seventh place in 10.19 seconds.
Like Ihemeje, Williams was an all-American. Like Ihemeje, he had come up frustratingly short of an individual NCAA Outdoor title.
Bienenfeld doubled back from his eighth-place showing Wednesday in the 10,000 and led portions of the 5k on Friday. Having hoped for a quicker pace in the 10k, he forced the issue Friday and led the field through about 3,000 meters. He then dropped back to the middle of the pack and looked to make up ground late, finishing 13th in 13:34.36.
"All things considered I'm happy," Bienenfeld said. "I never made the 5k at nationals, so that's something — at least not outdoors. Of course I would have loved to get closer to a top-eight again, but it was a really stacked field, really deep. I cannot be upset about it."
Bienenfeld said he consulted with UO distance coach Ben Thomas and determined that he couldn't afford to be as patient as he was Wednesday in the 10k. So he went to the front early Friday and led for big stretches of the first 3,000 meters, then settled into the pack in hopes of working through some fatigue before the final laps.
"When it hits me during the race, in like two or three laps I can recover from that tiredness and I can sometimes come back," Bienenfeld said. "It has worked a lot of times for me, so that's kind of what I was banking on. I think I had a decent close, picked off a couple of guys. But it's been tough and that 10k was still in my legs — maybe even the 5k and 10k from two weeks ago (at regionals)."
Bienenfeld said all that racing has him unsure of what his competition schedule will be on the international stage later this summer. But Williams can sooth his disappointment at Friday's result by turning his attention to the USATF Outdoor Championships later in June at Hayward Field. Likewise, Ihemeje hopes to be back competing in Hayward Field later this summer, for the World Athletics Championships in July.
"My season is just getting started," Ihemeje said. "It's gonna be a long season, and so, on to the next."
Ihemeje came into Friday as three-time defending champ in the triple jump, having won NCAA Indoor titles in 2021 and 2022, and the NCAA Outdoor title in 2021. The last man other than Ihemeje to win a national championship in the event was Chengetayi Mapaya of TCU, who won the NCAA Outdoor title in 2019 and reclaimed it Friday.
Mapaya jumped 56 feet, 7.5 inches on his third attempt Friday, the best mark by a collegian this year. Ihemeje had been the leader with his second attempt of 55-9.25, and though he improved to 55-10.5 on his fifth jump, it wasn't enough to catch Mapaya.
"We know that we have a big competition, a big rivalry, and we wanted to bring it out here," Ihemeje said. "I'm always wishing him the best — we have a good relationship — but once we're on the runway, it's me against you. He did a great job out there. He did his job, so congratulations to him."
The World Athletics Championships will be held July 15-24, with the triple jump to begin July 21.
"I like this quote: It's either a blessing or a lesson," Ihemeje said. "I've got a lot to learn from this meet. There's a lot of technique stuff that I need to fix, and I have a whole summer to do it."
The 2022 NCAA Championships wrap up Saturday with five scoring opportunities for the UO women in four events. Kemba Nelson will see the track twice on day four, first with the Ducks' 4x100-meter relay and then as a finalist in the 100 meters.
The Women of Oregon will have a pair of entries in the triple jump with Pac-12 champion Lexi Ellis and Dominique Ruotolo, both making a second-career NCAA appearance but looking to get on the top-eight podium for the first time. Jaida Ross, fifth place in Thursday's shot put, will return to the Hayward Field infield in the discus.
7. Micah Williams – 10.19 [2 points]
13. Aaron Bienenfeld – 13:34.36
2. Emmanuel Ihemeje – 17.03m/55-10.5 (SB) [8 points]
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