NCAA Men’s 800 — Harris Was Ready For Any Kind Of Pace

Isaiah Harris burst past favored Michael Saruni in the stretch to become Penn State’s first 2-lap champion since Alan Helffrich in 1922–23. (BILL LEUNG)

Six of the 10 names on our premeet formchart qualified through uneventful semis in perfect weather on Wednesday, but the final would turn out to be less to form. In the prelims Kansas soph Bryce Hoppel was fastest in a PR 1:46.90, and Wake Forest junior Robert Heppenstall was slowest in 1:47.40. In between were the favorites for the top three places: Penn State junior Isaiah Harris—runner-up at both the NCAA and USATF outdoor meets in ’17 and at this year’s NCAA indoor; Texas A&M soph Devin Dixon, 7th last year; and the new owner of the Collegiate Record, UTEP soph Michael Saruni.

Saruni had a rough frosh year in Nationals 800 finals: DQed indoors and knocked down at around the 600 mark outdoors while battling for the lead. But he set a World Indoor 600 Record in January, then utilized a strong final 400 to capture this year’s undercover crown. Since his April 1:43.25, he had not looked particularly sharp, but this was his first major test and he remained the favorite.

The 8 finalists went to their marks Friday night on a wet track in a light rain. Many were clearly tense, and they started fast. At the break, Dixon shot to the front and led at the 200 in 24.4, ahead of Mississippi State frosh Marco Arop, Saruni and USC’s Robert Ford. Dixon held his position past the 400 in a quick 51.09, followed by Arop (51.23), UTEP’s Jonah Koech (51.34), and Saruni (51.38). Harris and Hoppel were close behind.

Into the backstretch, Harris and Saruni suddenly blew past everyone to the front. The two were into an all-out sprint with 280m remaining. Saruni passed the 600 mark in 1:17.2, 2m ahead of Harris, with Arop and Koech trailing. “I made a big move coming into the backstretch,” said Harris. “Saruni kind of went around me and I felt good tucked in behind him, and those last 200 meters we just battled.”

“Battled” is the appropriate word, Saruni on the pole and Harris just behind. “During the last 200 I tried to not let him open up a gap and I came up on the last turn on his shoulder.”

Into the straight, Harris played his hand and powered past. He would not be caught on this day, and crossed the line in a U.S. list-leading 1:44.76. “I kept telling myself ‘Finish, finish,’ my legs starting tightening up, but I knew I needed to finish the race. I willed myself to the end, I would say.”

Saruni, teeth gritted, could not hold off the surprising Arop, whose 1:45.25 was a 1.5-second PR improvement. The previously unheralded Hoppel moved from last with 100 left to catch Dixon on the run-in for 4th with another big PR, in 1:45.67.

Harris, who split 51.54/53.22, was understandably ecstatic. “I came in with one goal, and that was to win. I know I’m a good racer and Saruni is talented, but there was no doubt in my mind that I could win this. I knew I was fit and ready to go. I was ready for a fast race, I was ready for a slow race, I was ready for anything. It feels amazing. I think I’m going to go home and let it sink in so I can finally enjoy the moment.”


NCAA MEN’S 800 RESULTS

(June 08)

1. *Isaiah Harris (PennSt) 1:44.76 (AL, AmCL) (7, x AmC; 7, 7 NCAA)

(24.7, 26.8 [51.54], 26.0 [1:17.5], 27.3) (51.54/53.22) (14.0);

2. ***Marco Arop’ (MsSt) 1:45.25 PR

(24.3, 26.9 [51.23], 26.5 [1:17.7], 27.5) (51.23/54.02) (14.2);

3. **Michael Saruni’ (UTEP) 1:45.31

(24.4, 27.0 [51.38], 25.8 [1:17.2], 28.1) (51.38/53.93) (14.6);

4. **Bryce Hoppel (Ks) 1:45.67 PR

(51.55/54.12);

5. **Devin Dixon (TxAM) 1:45.86

(51.09/54.77);

6. *Jonah Koech’ (UTEP) 1:46.23 PR

(51.34/54.89);

7. Robert Ford (USC) 1:46.72

(51.61/55.11);

8. *Robert Heppenstall’ (WF) 1:47.14

(52.09/55.05).

SEMIS (June 06)

I–1. Saruni’ 1:46.98; 2. Dixon 1:47.12; 3. Koech’ 1:47.28;

4. *Vincent Crisp (TxT) 1:48.34; 5. Clay Lambourne (UtSt) 1:50.33; 6. **Matt Manternach (Ia) 1:50.58; 7. Stefano Migliorati’ (ECar) 1:51.68; 8. Moujtaba Mohammed (Nb) 1:54.78.

II–1. Hoppel 1:46.90 PR; 2. Heppenstall’ 1:47.40;

3. *Avery Bartlett (GaT) 1:48.49; 4. **Cooper Williams (In) 1:48.81; 5. *Dejon Devroe (MsSt) 1:48.93; 6. Jonathan Moore (B-C) 1:50.66; 7. **Anthony Hawthorne (LaS) 1:50.93; 8. Collins Kibet’ (Az) 1:52.44.

III–1. Harris 1:46.99; 2. Arop’ 1:47.14; 3. Ford 1:47.38;

4. *Daniel Kuhn (In) 1:48.25; 5. Dylan Capwell (Monm) 1:48.56; 6. *John Lewis (Clem) 1:49.40; 7. *Erik Martinsson’ (UTA) 1:52.48; 8. Jaymes Dennison (IaSt) 1:52.76. □

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