Cyclone distance running, discus ready for NCAA Outdoor Championship


Iowa State sophomore thrower Kevin Sakson at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa on April 30. Sakson finished fourth in the shot put on a day-best throw of 19.00 meters to earn his second Drake Relays medal. He was runner-up in the discus in 2021 after recording a throw of 55.23 meters.

Adarsh Tamma

The final stop on Iowa State track and field’s 2022 postseason tour has arrived, as six Cyclones will travel to Eugene, Oregon, to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

The national finals will include the top 24 qualifiers in the individual, relays and multi-events from across the country as they compete in a series of semifinals and finals competitions to determine this year’s NCAA champions. Hayward Field will be the venue for the championships for the 14th time, with the facility also hosting the World Athletics Championships in July.

Five out of Iowa State’s six entries will be making their debut at the outdoor championships. The Cyclones’ program in Oregon will be dominated by the middle and long distances and a couple of throwers in the field events.

Emily March will be the lone athlete from the Cyclone women’s squad as she looks to carry her strong form into the discus finals. The school record holder in the event, March, finished tenth in the West Preliminary meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and will be throwing in the first flight of the day. Her competition will include Texas Tech’s Seasons Usual, who finished third in the discus at the Big 12 Championships but placed behind March in the prelims at 12th to earn the final qualifying spot.

Sophomore Kevin Sakson will represent Iowa State in the men’s discus, a spot which he earned by breaking his personal best at the preliminaries. Sakson threw for 57.26 meters on his final throw to place fifth, besting his previous mark by 18 centimeters.

He will also have a strong set of competitors while throwing in the second flight, a field that includes No. 1 seed Mykolas Alekna from California-Berkeley. Alekna won the qualifying prelims competition, where he beat his next best opponent by more than four meters with a top throw of 64.87.

Iowa’s Jordan Johnson is also competing in flight two, as he finished just behind Sakson at the prelims in sixth. Sakson and Johnson were last in competition together at the Drake Relays, where Sakson fouled out by scratching on all three of his attempts, while Johnson took third with a mark of 53.66 meters.

The men’s 800 meters will be the only time where Iowa State will have multiple entries in one event, as the junior pairing of Jason Gomez and Cebastian Gentil both successfully punched their tickets into the semifinals through earning automatic qualifying spots. 

Gentil had to make up for lost ground in his quarterfinal race in Fayetteville, as he sat in sixth place with 200 meters left, with the top three finishers in each heat automatically moving on to Eugene. Gentil used a punishing final kick to slide past his opponents and win in a time of 1:47.41.

Gomez will be looking to better his performance from one year ago, as he did not finish his semifinal after dropping out during the race but earned Honorable Mention All-American honors for getting to the national stage. He has displayed strong form in the half-mile race this season, as his best time of 1:47.12 ranked among the NCAA’s best, and he is currently seeded 17th.

Gomez and Gentil will be running in the first of the three semifinal heats, with the top two finishers in each race earning a place in Friday’s final. Their competition will include Texas’ Yusuf Bizimana, who won the Big 12 title ahead of them and finished seventh in last year’s final. Bizimana is a three-time All-American, having earned the status by finishing sixth in this year’s indoor 800-meter final and last year’s outdoor 800m and indoor 1500m finals.

The Cyclones are also represented by senior distance runner Ryan Ford, who will be running in his last collegiate race in the men’s 5000-meter final. Ford’s journey to the NCAA Championships has had its ups and downs, as he transferred to the Iowa State program last fall after spending the last four years at Tennessee-Martin.

Since joining the Cyclones, Ford has helped the men’s cross country team finish second at the NCAA Championships in November by lowering his personal bests on the track in the 5K and 10K. To qualify for this week’s finals, Ford turned in a PR performance at the prelims by running a time of 13:34.79 to beat his previous best by eight seconds and earn the last qualifying spot (12th).

His competition in Eugene won’t get any easier, as the field will include the top-three ranked athletes in the nation in Washington’s Brian Fay, Michigan State’s Morgan Beadlescomb and Wisconsin’s Olin Hacker. The Harvard duo of Acer Iverson and Matthew Pereira also pose stiff competition, as they finished fourth and fifth respectively at the East Regional to qualify. Iverson and Pereira were also two of the Crimson’s three All-Americans at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, where they finished 12th as a team.

Senior Nehemia Too rounds out Iowa State’s entries as he looks to book his place in the men’s 1500m final. To do that, Too will first have to get through his semifinal heat by either finishing within the top five or earning one of the two remaining spots with his time.

Too is no stranger to the NCAA Finals stage, as he helped the Cyclones’ distance medley relay quartet to a sixth-place finish earlier this year at the indoor championships and earned Second Team All-American honors. He also earned five NJCAA national championships as a member of Colby College.

Too’s semifinal heat will include Alabama’s No. 1 seed Eliud Kipsang, who made the headline of the season in April when he established a new NCAA record. Running in the first heat at the Bryan Clay Invitational, Too kept pace with the leaders from gun to tape and won in a time of 3:33.74, shattering Josh Kerr’s previous best by nearly two seconds. He was also a finalist in last year’s 1500m competition, earning First Team All-American honors with a fourth-place finish.

Whatever Kipsang’s outcome may be, both semifinals look to be an intense dash to the finish to safely qualify for the final Friday evening.

The NCAA Championships are set to go from June 8 to 11, with the conclusion of the women’s finals. The action will also be broadcasted live on the ESPN family of networks.