Jason Gomez earns NCAA Outdoor Championship finals spot

Iowa State junior Jason Gomez (far left) competes in the men’s distance medley relay at the Drake Relays on April 30 in Des Moines, Iowa. Gomez, along with Nehemia Too, Charlie Johnson and Chad Johnson, placed eighth in the race with a time of 9:50.90. He was also part of the Cyclones’ 4x800m relay-winning team alongside Peter Smith, Cebastian Gentil and Darius Kipyego, as the quartet ran the second-fastest time in Iowa State history at 7:17.47.

Adarsh Tamma

Iowa State’s middle distance athletes kicked off the NCAA Outdoor Championships on Wednesday, as three Cyclone athletes took to the Hayward Field track in Eugene, Oregon, to compete in the men’s 800-meter and 1,500-meter semifinals.

Wednesday’s competitions were dominated by fast times and razor-thin margins, as athletes jostled between each other to gain a spot in their respective finals.

The Cyclones ended up going one of three on the day, as Jason Gomez will run in the men’s 800-meter final on Saturday after finishing in the top nine of his event.

Too misses out on 1500-meter final spot

Nehemia Too earned Second-Team All-American honors on Wednesday evening after finishing 13th overall in the men’s 1,500-meter semifinals. Too placed seventh in his heat with a time of 3:40.01, a mark that just missed out on the two time-qualifying spots.

Running in the second semifinal, Too and the rest of his heat had the uphill challenge of trying to match the pace set by the runners in the opening race. Illinois senior Jonathan Davis led a fast first semifinal heat, as he won in a time of 3:37.39 that saw the first six runners finish under the 3:38 mark.

Too’s heat started out quick, as Washington’s Joe Waskom led the field through the 300-meter mark in a time of 42.99 seconds, close to Davis’ split of 42.94. Too went through the first checkpoint in 43.86 seconds but had fallen to 10th place, needing to make up for lost ground in what was looking to be a competitive finish.

With two laps to go, Too moved up through the field, as he shifted gears to accelerate into the top five to challenge for an automatic qualifying spot. Too sat on the shoulder of Alabama’s Eliud Kipsang, the number one seed coming into these championships and the owner of the NCAA record at 3:33.74.

At the bell, Too was closing in on a place in the final, as he had successfully held fifth place through the previous 400 meters. The shuffling over the course of the final lap saw all 12 athletes battle it out for a top-five spot, and Too entered the final home stretch in back in eighth. He was unable to get into the top-five finishers, and placed behind Northern Arizona’s George Kusche to just miss out on a spot in the final.

Too and Kusche were part of the group fighting to get into the top 12. In the end, Kusche’s time was just 0.34 seconds faster than Too’s, as he earned the second of the two qualifying spots on time. Too needed to run a fast time to get into the finals regardless, as Oklahoma State’s Ryan Schoppe earned the first time-qualifying spot by clocking 3:37.94.

Too earned his third All-American award, as well as his first in an individual event. He earned a pair of All-American honors as a member of the Cyclones’ men’s distance medley relay, both this season and in 2021. He also finishes the season as the school record holder in the 1,500 meters, having run a time of 3:39.15 at the West Regional to qualify for the national finals.

Gomez’ kick sends him into 800-meter final

Jason Gomez had to come from behind in his semifinal, as he earned his ticket to the men’s 800-meter final by winning his heat on a personal-best performance.

Gomez and fellow junior Cebastian Gentil both ran in the first of three semifinals contested on Wednesday evening, with the top two in each heat earning an automatic place in the final. The next three fastest athletes would also qualify based on their finishing times.

The opening semifinal race saw Gomez trail the pack through the first lap, as he sat near last place after the first 400 meters. The back-half of the race saw the race significantly shift pace, which Gomez made the most of by turning wide on the outer lanes to gradually pass his competitors.

With less than 300 meters left, Gomez now led the field and was streaking for home. Over the home stretch, several athletes behind him tried to make a move for first, including Texas’ Yusuf Bizimana. Gomez held on however, and crossed the line in a time of 1:47.02.

Gomez lowered his PR by a tenth of a second through his semifinal performance, as he and Bizimana both earned automatic qualification for Friday’s final. The San Jose, California native did not finish his race at this stage in last year’s national championships, as his teammate Festus Lagat moved onto the final. There, Lagat earned First-Team All-American status by taking fifth.

The race wasn’t as fortunate for Gentil, who dropped out after the 300-meter mark. The Miami native came into these championships, like Gomez, on the back of a series of strong results in the weeks leading up to Eugene. He had previously set a personal best of his own in the 800 meters, clocking 1:46.97 to finish fourth overall at the Brian Clay Invite.

Gentil earned Honorable Mention All-American honors by getting to the national semifinals. It is his third All-American award of his collegiate career, as he — like Too — had previously earned both of his placements indoors in the distance medley relay. Also like Too, it is his first individual All-American showing.

What’s next?

Field events will move into the spotlight for the Cyclones on Friday, when sophomore Kevin Sakson takes to the circle for the men’s discus competition. Sakson will be making his debut on the national stage, having not qualified from the West Preliminary meet last season.

Sakson will be throwing in the second flight of the competition, where he will get three more attempts to get onto the medal podium. His competition will include Iowa’s Jordan Johnson, who finished behind Sakson at the West Preliminary meet in sixth place.

Johnson was also the runner-up at the Big Ten Championships, throwing for a mark of 57.63 meters to finish in second to Nebraska’s Maxwell Otterdahl. Sakson and the others will get the finals started at 7:35 p.m. CST on Friday.

In the men’s 5,000 meters, Ryan Ford will be running in his final collegiate race Friday evening. Ford will be running against 23 of the best distance runners in the country, where his competition will include seven athletes who ran in last year’s final.

Campbell’s Athanas Kioko is one of those athletes, as he earned First-Team All-American honors by finishing third in the 2021 final. At the time, Kioko’s time of 13:13.47 was the fourth-fastest in NCAA history, as he posted the best performance by a Campbell athlete since 1983. The 5,000 meters final will start at approximately 7:55 p.m. 

In the women’s discus, Emily March will be Iowa State’s final athlete to compete at Hayward Field, as she will participate in the women’s discus final Saturday afternoon.

March will be throwing in the first flight of the day, where she will face familiar Big 12 competition from Texas Tech. The Red Raiders’ duo of Seasons Usual and Malin Smith have faced off against March twice this season, as the trio most recently competed together at the West Regional meet.

March, who holds the Cyclones school record at 58.27 meters, finished tenth at the regional meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, placing ahead of Usual (12th) and behind Smith (8th). Usual led the trio at the Big 12 Championships the meet before, finishing third to place ahead of March and Smith in fourth and fifth respectively. The discus final is set to get underway at approximately 4:05 p.m.

The NCAA Championships continue through the rest of this week, into the weekend. Live stats of all events can be accessed here, with the meet also being broadcasted live on the ESPN family of networks.