EUGENE, Ore. – So, what’s a two-time NCAA cross country champion doing in a stacked field of world-class runners in the famed Wanamaker Mile at the 108th annual Millrose Games in New York City on Saturday?
But there’s a lot more to it than that.
Cheserek, who was honored as the USTFCCCA Division I cross country scholar-athlete of the year this week – joining Galen Rupp as the only two Duck runners to earn that award – will be racing on familiar turf. The Armory is only 20 miles from St. Benedict Prep High School in Newark, N.J., where he first showed off his immense talent.
As a distance runner, Cheserek doesn’t often compete in the mile, and it’s a fairly safe bet that his personal best of 4 minutes, 2.21 seconds, set on this same track three years ago, will be broken. He will be joined in the race by UO teammate John Gregorek, a senior transfer from Columbia.
“For Ed, this is an opportunity to break the four-minute barrier for the first time,” Oregon coach Robert Johnson said Wednesday. “There are some studs in this field, so he knows it’s going to be a fast race. He just needs to hold on and enjoy the ride.”
The two Ducks are the only collegians in the field, which features some of the world’s best professional runners – UO alum and Nike Oregon Project’s Matthew Centrowitz, Oregon Track Club Elite’s Pat Casey, Bowerman Track Club’s Evan Jager, Nick Willis, Bernard Lagat, Leo Manzano, Will Leer, Kyle Merber, Chris O’Hare and Lawi Lalang, who set the collegiate indoor record of 3:52.88 at last year’s meet.
Can Cheserek hang with such a star-studded group at this distance?
He certainly has the closing speed. In a workout last week, Johnson said Cheserek averaged 23.8 seconds over five 200-meter repeats, a speed session which had UO assistant coach Andy Powell covering his eyes.
“That shows the type of wheels (Ed) has,” Johnson said. “When you start running that fast there is no telling what can happen, but he came off it healthy, with no issues, no problems and no soreness. I think it’s safe to say that he’ll break four minutes on Saturday.”
The Millrose Games will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network from 3-5 p.m. (Pacific).
In all, there will be fourteen current or former UO athletes competing at the Millrose Games. The other current Ducks are entered in the 3,000 meters: Eric Jenkins, Will Geoghegan, Parker Stinson and Jake Leingang.
Joining Centrowitz among the UO alums are Jordan Hasay (mile), Phyllis Francis (400m), Michael Berry (500m), Trevor Dunbar (5,000m), Ashton Eaton (60m hurdles/long jump), Brianne Theisen-Eaton (60m hurdles) and Becky Holliday (pole vault).
“Year in and year out, we like to think we turn out a high number of quality athletes,” Johnson said. “It’s an honor for them to want us there at Millrose, and it’s a testament to our coaches that we’re bringing in the right kids and doing a lot of great things with our athletes.”
The UO and OTC Elite will also be sending several athletes to the Husky Classic at the Dempsey Indoor in Seattle on Friday and Saturday, while another group of Duck sprinters, jumpers and hurdlers will compete at the Don Kirby Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico.