Tucson, Arizona, April 28—The new Desert Heat Classic delivered performances as hot as its name suggested. Specifically a pair of Collegiate Records from Michael Saruni in the men’s 800 and Maggie Ewen in the women’s shot.
UTEP soph Saruni’s 1:43.25 clipped 0.30 from the old standard set by Texas A&M’s Donavan Brazier in ’16.
Arizona State senior Ewen, having raised her CR in the hammer three weeks ago, lifted Raven Saunders’ shot standard by 5¼ inches (13cm) to 63-10¼ (19.46). Read more about Ewen’s performance here.
Saruni Runs 1:43.25
Saruni and Miner middle distance coach Paul Ereng came in with no intent to set a CR this time out even though it has been obvious for a while that the NCAA indoor champion who set a new indoor 600 WR in January (1:14.79) is a world-class talent, having run 1:44.61 last year.
“Honestly, no,” Saruni told meet announcer Paul Merca (see video), when asked if the record was on the agenda all along, “but I was just doing my thing. The last lap I felt good so I felt, ‘Man, this is the time here to do my best,’ and it came down to the Collegiate Record.”
Ereng explained, “My approach is always not to think about the time but to run a very good race. So we were kind of focusing to go just under 1:44, but it looked like we were almost going under 1:43 at the end of it. So, yeah, that was a very good run and he’s in good shape.”
One might by now surmise rounding into shape the last weekend in April is a UTEP trademark. Emmanuel Korir, last year’s double NCAA champ who is still Saruni’s training partner, set his collegiate best just a day shy of one year earlier. And UTEP did request a rabbit for Saruni.
Blake Eichler performed as requested, pulling Saruni, with the field single-file behind them, through 200 in 25.0 and 400 in 51.1.
“We planned the first 400 going past in 50. That’s what went down,” Saruni said.
Michael Saruni (1:43.25) sets a new NCAA 800m Record!!! pic.twitter.com/DA3X6j91ou
— UTEP Track & Field (@UTEPTrack) April 29, 2018
“But we also wanted to get a push to about 500,” Ereng explained. “But by the time they crossed the 400 he was already on [Eichler’s] neck. That put a little pressure on him and there was a little tangle when he was exiting the field.”
As Saruni sped past the rabbit on his outside early in the penultimate curve, the pair bumped elbows and Eichler stepped off into the infield.
“The only problem was that I was not part of the discussion of the exit strategy,” said Ereng. “Either you go out or you go in and the other guy comes out. When you are very clear about that, then there are no accidents. But that’s fine, we achieved what we wanted.”
The coach, oh, sorta knows his subject, having won Olympic 800 gold for Kenya in ’88 after winning the first of his pair of NCAA crowns as a Virginia frosh earlier that year.
Down the backstretch Saruni was all gaiters & gas, full of run, pulling steadily farther ahead and passing 600 in 1:17.5—remarkably even pacing.
“I think the hardest part was the last 200 ’cause I was kinda out of gas,” Saruni said, “but I still pushed it through. But luckily we made it through. Everything went according to plan.”
Ereng feels sure we all should plan to watch a faster Saruni race in the future. “When you look at the whole conditions and the way he did it,” said the coach, “it’s not a normal 800 that you run that fast. If we had a very big field that took him all the way to 600 then you would have seen a pretty fast time.”
So we ain’t seen nothing yet?
Ereng: “Yeah, correct.”
When talking with Ereng about Saruni, the question naturally arises: With regard to his specific talents as an 800 man is the soph more like Ereng himself in his competitive days or Korir?
“He is neither,” the coach said. “Saruni is very different because he’s a guy who is versatile. He’s got a range from the 400 all the way to about 3000. We’ve not worked on his speed as such, you know. So I believe he can actually also go under 45 seconds in the 400, and I also believe that he can run under 3:35 in the 1500. He’s that versatile.
“Korir, on the other hand, is specifically 4/8. He can still run a good 15. You know, right? But he will be feeling some pain at the end of it, but Saruni is different.”
Paul Merca (@paulmerca70601), also the stadium announcer for the record race, video-interviewed Saruni afterwards.
He also is nowhere near a peak for the year yet, according to Ereng: “We’ve cut a lot of mileage so we are reducing. You know, as the season goes by and you get to this part you kind of reduce the mileage. But you still keep the base, keep on going on for the remainder of the season.
“But we always go up and down, you know. The moment you sharpen it is very difficult to peak several times. So I’m kind of holding, pushing the ball under the pool and holding it down for now. Holding it down and letting it go, and then push it again and letting it go. So the training kind of varies from time to time to keep them going. It’s fine that Saruni ran fast this weekend.”
If Saruni is, indeed, a 3:34 metric miler waiting in the wings of that event, might we see that this spring?
“Well, we have the conference coming,” Ereng said. “We’ll see, we’ll see. I’m still debating on that. We’ll see how the season goes, what he will do at the end.”
Don’t expect a burner of a time in any event at the Conference USA meet, though.
“Usually when you go to conference it’s not an issue of how fast you run. It’s just win the team points,” Ereng said. “It kind of reminds me of when I used to race. I used to just have to tighten the screw when things got tough and get going. Usually it was just a matter of running to win the races. It was not reaching for a championship record every other day or whatever.
“But when you want to do it, you want to do it. When it’s an Olympics, you’ve got to sign up and know what you’ve got on your plate.”
Again, Ereng ought to know. And Saruni?
“Saruni is a few-words guy,” the coach explained. “He doesn’t say much, he just says, ‘Thank you, coach, I did it.’ But he was very excited.
“You know, these youngsters when they are excited they kind of, they are tongue-tied. But later on…”
We eagerly await Saruni’s later on—on the oval.
DESERT HEAT MEN’S RESULTS
Tucson, Arizona, April 28 (elevation 747m)—
200(0.8): 1. Asa Guevara’ (UTEP) 20.51; 2. *Cravon Gillespie (Or) 20.64.
800: 1. **Michael Saruni’ (UTEP) 1:43.25 CR (old CR 1:43.55 Donavan Brazier [TxAM] ‘16) (WL) (51.1/52.2);
2. **Carlos Villarreal’ (Az) 1:46.70; 3. *Jonah Koech’ (UTEP) 1:47.12; 4. Collins Kibet’ (Az) 1:47.83.
110H(0.1): 1. **Braxton Canady (Or) 13.79.
4 x 100: 1. Oregon 39.05 (Simpson, Gillespie, Shellmire, Daniel); 2. Oregon B 39.95; 3. Arizona 39.98.
4 x 400: 1. Arizona 3:07.37.
SP: 1. ***Jordan Geist (Az) 66-11½ (20.41) (out CL).
DT: 1. ***Turner Washington (Az) 185-4 (56.50).
HT: 1. *Grayson Fleming (Az) 209-8 (63.92).
DESERT HEAT WOMEN’S RESULTS
100(0.3): 1. *Ashley Henderson (SDi) 10.98 (WL, AL, CL) (=9, =10 C; 8, 9 AmC);
2. **Makenzie Dunmore (Or) 11.25; 3. ***Lauren Rain Williams (Or) 11.29; 4. *Ariana Washington (Or) 11.31; 5. ***Jasmin Reed (Or) 11.42; 6. *Venessa D’Arpino (Or) 11.48.
200(1.9): 1. Williams 22.51 (7, x AJ);
2. Washington 22.92; 3. *Alaysha Johnson (Or) 23.07; 4. D’Arpino 23.21.
400: 1. Katara Nelson (NMSt) 51.98; 2. *Tatum Waggoner (Az) 52.60; 3. *Lisa-Anne Barrow (SDi) 52.71.
800: 1. *Lilian Koech’ (UTEP) 2:07.06.
100H(-0.3): 1. *Alaysha Johnson (Or) 12.75 (AmCL).
400H: 1. ***De’Andreah Young (CSN) 57.81; 2. Karolina Pahlitzsch’ (Az) 58.55.
4 x 100: 1. Oregon 42.70 (Johnson, Williams, Reed, Washington); 2. Oregon B 43.30; 3. San Diego State 43.46; 4. New Mexico State 44.66.
4 x 400: 1. San Diego State 3:34.11; 2. Arizona 3:37.93.
HJ: 1. Ty Butts (unat) 5-10½ (1.79).
LJ: 1. *Jessica Barreira’ (AzSt) 20-6¼w (6.25); 2. Alyssa Thompson (Az) 20-5¾ (6.24).
SP: 1. Maggie Ewen (AzSt) 63-10¼ (19.46) CR (old CR 63-5/19.33 Raven Saunders [Ms] ’16) (2, 2 C) (f, 60-6¾, 60-6½, f, 60-6¾, 63-10¼) (f, 18.46, 18.45, f, 18.46, 19.46);
2. ***Samantha Noennig (AzSt) 56-9½ (17.31).
DT: 1. Rachel Dincoff (unat) 186-6 (56.84); 2. Noennig 170-7 (52.01).
HT: 1. Brooke Andersen (NnAz) 243-5 (74.20) (=6, x A; 2, 2 C) (236-3, f, 218-0, 243-5, 234-1, 240-7 [x, 5 C]) (72.00, f, 66.46, 74.20, 71.35, 73.33); 2. Ewen 239-6 (73.01) (x, 6 C) (f, 231-5, 225-1, 239-6, 238-11 [x, 9 C], f) (f, 70.54, 68.60, 73.01, 72.82, f).