Distance Crew Holds Key To Next NCAA Title

FAYETTEVILLE -- The last time the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships took place in Sacramento, Razorbacks Alistair Cragg and Daniel Lincoln left an indelible mark on the meet.

Arkansas coach John McDonnell hopes Peter Kosgei and Josphat Boit have something similar in them in the return to Sacramento beginning today.

In 2003 in Hornet Stadium, Cragg and Lincoln crossed the finish line in the 10,000 meters as one with hands joined and upraised, the junior Cragg leaning back just a fraction to give the senior Lincoln one more NCAA title.

A day later, Lincoln became the first American to win three consecutive NCAA steeplechase titles and on the meet's final day, Cragg clinched the Razorbacks' first outdoor title since 1999 with a gutty final lap in the 5,000 to win in spite of a hernia that would require offseason surgery.

It was the first time Arkansas won the steeple, the 5,000 and the 10,000 at the NCAA Championships, but with Boit a junior and Kosgei a sophomore, it may not be the last.

Of course it will be tougher this year as McDonnell and the top-ranked Razorbacks seek their third consecutive outdoor title and 41st NCAA championship overall.

The 10,000 field is loaded and it's highly unlikely to turn into the exhibition Lincoln and Cragg made it.

Unlike Lincoln, Kosgei will be running his first NCAA steeple after going relatively untested in three races so far this season.

Boit, ranked second in the 10K and 10th in the 5K, has a bit of an ankle injury requiring a few laps before it loosens up.

"I hope they're as ready as Alistair Cragg and Daniel Lincoln were a couple years ago," McDonnell said. "I'd be real happy with that."

Arkansas enters the meet without defending champion Tyson Gay in the 100 or senior Said Ahmed in the 1,500, which translates in a loss of approximately 14-20 points, McDonnell said, opening chances for challengers like No.2 Florida State, No. 3 Florida and No. 4 LSU.

"Now we're kind of back at the pack," McDonnell said. "We'll have to be almost perfect. But there's nothing wrong with that. A team that would beat us would have to have a perfect meet, also.

"So why not us?"

Boit will run the 5,000 prelims tonight at 11 p.m. central time, Kosgei the steeple first round at 10:35.

Both will run the 10K beginning at midnight central time Thursday.

Ranked fourth in the nation, Kosgei will have the steeple finals Friday night and Boit will have the 5K final Saturday.

With Kosgei, Boit and five-time All-American senior Jason Sandfort in the 10K, Kosgei and junior transfer Jose Campos in the steeple and Boit and up-and-coming sophomore Seth Summerside in the 5K, the three long distance events likely hold the key to McDonnell winning his 41st NCAA title this weekend.

Arkansas will be counting on senior James Hatch to repeat or better his runner-up finish in the 800 and hoping Mideast Regional 1,500 champ Adam Perkins can continue his hot streak.

McDonnell knows he's asking a lot of his distance crew, especially in races where most athletes focus on one for the NCAAs.

"There are some schools who don't have a shot at the team title that aren't doubling and going fresh," he said. "We don't have that option. We have to double them and see what happens. I think they'll be ready."

Kosgei certainly is after winning the 5K and steeple and taking third in the 1,500 with four races in three days at the Southeastern Conference Championships last month.

And if the finish does come down to he and Boit in the 10K, don't bet on a similar gentlemanly finish like Cragg's and Lincoln's.

Kosgei and Boit ran the 5K at the SEC meet mostly as one until the final 200 meters when Kosgei put a move on his teammate and outkicked him down the homestretch.

For the two highly competitive Kenyans, giving away individual titles isn't an option, but Boit was able to smile about Kosgei's move on him.

Kosgei knows he has more of a speed burst than Boit, who has a better ability to sustain his speed for a longer time.

Knowing this, Kosgei waited until just near the end to make his move.

"I wasn't surprised because we made it a tactical race," Boit said. "If he kicks early, I always get him. If he kicks for 400 (meters), I'm going to catch him.

"He went slow until the last 200 and he had more speed than me. I knew it was going to be hard to catch him.

"If I had made a move at 500 or 600 to go, I could have got him."

Kosgei, of course, was able to smile about beating his teammate after the meet, something he's known for as the joker on the team.

"He's a funny guy," McDonnell said. "He's kind of a clown and you need guys like that. He's always kidding everyone around. He has a great temperament about races. He doesn't let it get to him. That's his way of keeping loose."

Kosgei, who transferred to Arkansas from Harding University at the semester break this winter, said he's always been a kidder.

He, Sandfort and Perkins, who will try to pick up the slack for injured Said Ahmed in the 1,500, are the main jokers on the team, Kosgei said.

He's had to learn about some of his teammates and which ones appreciate his sense of humor.

"This guy likes jokes, this guy doesn't like jokes, this guy doesn't like jokes at certain times," Kosgei said. "You can figure it out."

When Kosgei won the steeplechase at the Mideast Regional on May 28, he looked toward his teammates clustered in the stands near the finish line and did sort of a muscle flex while pointing at them.

His teammates sprang to their feet laughing, whooping and clapping while Gay just turned backward and smiled.

"Man," Gay said, "That dude is funny."

In that respect, Kosgei and Boit share something in common with Cragg and Lincoln.

Both tandems could have easily been rivals for the top spot on the team, but instead they both loved ripping on each other and kept the locker room atmosphere light.

"Josphat is really low key and they're always joking on each other," McDonnell said. "It's like Lincoln and Alistair. They had a good relationship and I hope these two have the same."

Lincoln and Cragg have helped Boit and Kosgei prepare for this double with some strategic advice.

The main piece of advice has been to focus on the 10K first and not worry about how the race will affect the 5K for Boit and the steeple for Kosgei.

"We always let the other day take care of itself," Boit said. "We do one day like there are no others.

"Alistair told me it's not an easy double, but the deal is to put the 5 out of your mind. Let it take care of itself."

While both are gunning for individual titles, neither would trade one for the team title.

"Winning the individual title is good, but we want to win the national title," Kosgei said. "If I win an individual title and we lose the national title, it means nothing. When you win the national title and the individual title, that's great."

Boit agreed.

"All my effort I give is just for the team," he said, "to be among that group that is supposed to win the national title."

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