NAU runners enjoy experience in London
By Cody Bashore
The 2012 Summer Olympics wrapped a few weeks ago and NAU’s trio of distance runners saw varying degrees of success in their events.
Australia’s David McNeill, Mexico’s Diego Estrada and the USA’s Lopez Lomong — all of whom have NAU ties — came up short when it came to reaching the medal stand in London, though the opportunity to take part in the Olympics was a reasonable consolation prize.
The Olympics kicked off for NAU on Aug. 4 when Estrada, the only current Lumberjack participating in the games, finished 21 out of the 29 finalists in the 10,000-meter run. Estrada’s time of 28:36.19 fell short of the 27:32.90 he ran in April to qualify for the Olympics, though that was more of a result event’s pace.
“He was running some fast laps, the difference was he was 25 meters behind everybody,” said director of track and field Eric Heins. “I think for a while there he was running the same pace as the leaders.”
About 10 minutes into the race, Estrada fell slightly off the lead pack’s pace and would run behind the leaders for the remainder of the race.
“The goal all along was to finish in the top half of the entries, so obviously he was a little outside of that,” Heins said.
Mo Farah of Great Britain won gold in the 10,000 with a time of 27:30.42. That time was the slowest by the event’s gold medal winner since the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
“Everybody ran slower than what they qualified with,” Heins said. “I mean, the winning time was [Estrada’s] qualifying time, so those guys that won ran about 45 seconds slower than what they’re used to.”
A few days later, on Aug. 8, McNeill hit the track for his heat in the 5,000 meters, but failed to qualify for the finals of the event after finishing 13th. The race also included Lomong and Farah, who both qualified for the final by finishing in the top five finishers in the heat.
McNeill, who ran at NAU from 2007-10, took the lead as the pack passed the start-finish line with eight laps to go. McNeil’s time of 13:45.88 was well short of his personal best of 13:19:31 in the 5,000 meters at a meet in Walnut, Calif. in April.
“Overall, I had a goal of making the final, so anything short of that was going to be disappointing for me,” McNeill said via NAU Athletics. “Having said that, in hindsight, it was always going to be difficult to make the final, so I am proud I gave it my best shot, and didn’t give up all the way to the end.”
Lomong, however, finished fourth in that same heat and qualified as one of 15 men for the 5,000 final with a time of 13:26:16., just a bit over his personal record of 13:11.63.
In the final on Aug. 11, Lomong surged up to challenge Farah for the lead with 500 meters remaining in the race, but couldn’t pull ahead or merge into the inside lane. Lomong would be shuffled back during the scramble on the last lap and finished 10th with a time of 13:48.19.
“I wasn’t disappointed at all,” Lomong said via NAU Athletics. “I put everything I had into it. I am so excited to be here and represent America and of course the fans back home. They have been cheering me on.”
But, as in the case of the 10,000 final, the 5,000 final also ran at an incredibly slow pace with Farah’s winning time of 13:41.66 the slowest for the event finals since the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
“To have the first part of the race real, real slow and then just have to run fast the last mile . . . it seemed like it was set up really perfect for Lopez,” Heins said. “It’s just unfortunate that he didn’t quite have it there at the end.”