Watching Edward Cheserek and Lawi Lalang compete is a special occasion for any track and field fan as each race turns into a personal duel between the two.
They first faced off in the NCAA Indoor National Championships earlier this season. At that meet Cheserek got the better of Lalang twice. Cheserek won the 5000 (13:46.67) while Lalang came in second (13:52.83). Then in the 3000 Lalang decided to drop out of the race and Cheserek won yet again (8:11.59).
This weekend’s Pac-12 Championships marked the first time since the indoor meet that the two have faced off on the track and this time they battled in the 1500.
The 1500 is an event Lalang is very familiar with. He holds the Pac-12 Championships meet record after setting it last year. After Saturday’s qualifiers, Lalang entered the race with the third fastest time, 3:47.77. Stanford senior Michael Atchoo had the top time (3:47.21) while Cheserek also qualified (3:56.05). Two other Ducks rounded out the field, junior Daniel Winn and freshman Sam Prakel.
Right at the gun the two jumped out to a lead, separating themselves from the rest of the field and turning the event into a two-man race. Even with the swirling winds, the two were able to keep up a blistering pace and neither could shake the other.
Lalang led for the entire race as Cheserek was content to sit behind, drafting and waiting for his chance to kick past him. That chance came on the final 100 meters as Cheserek and Lalang both sprinted out towards the finish line. Though Cheserek made it close, Lalang was able to hold on, en route to a first place finish.
Lalang’s final time was 3:36.34, a meet record, track record and the fastest time in the NCAA this season. Cheserek’s time of 3:36.50 places him fourth all time in Oregon history.
“It is nice having someone like Cheserek in competition because your not going to have a good competition if you don’t have someone to push together,” Lalang said.
Oregon head coach Robert Johnson was pleased with Cheserek’s performance in an event he doesn’t usually run.
“The thing that I told Edward after the race was ‘that was a fabulous effort’,” Johnson said. “So for him to come here and run 3:36 and get nipped out at the finish line by the collegiate record holder as a freshman, his confidence should be riding high.”
After the intensity of the 1500, the stage was set for the men’s 5000, a race that both athletes were originally scheduled to run. However, Cheserek — who was unavailable for comment — decided not to compete, ceding the stage to Lalang.
Lalang didn’t seem to have any ill effects from running the 1500 as he ran well for the duration of the event. Early he settled in towards the back of the group, content to let the field shake itself out.
At the 1:30 mark Lalang moved up towards the front of the field, taking control of the pace.
With five laps to go in the race Lalang continued to lead a breakaway group consisting of five athletes. Then with one last lap to go Lalang picked up the pace, refusing to give up the lead he had worked for. Lalang flew down the back 200, cruising his way towards a second championship with a time of 13:41.44.
“I am feeling a lot of confidence right now heading into regionals and nationals,” Lalang said. “Which is a really nice thing.”
With the meet over, both athletes will be looking ahead on the schedule to when they will next compete on the national stage.
“Of course I am looking forward to racing him,” Lalang said. “Anything can happen because he is a strong athlete—I am not going to deny that. So we are just going to go over there, try our best and whoever wins, that’s it.”
Fans will have to wait to see who takes round three.
Follow Christopher Keizur on Twitter @chriskeizur