In a men’s steeplechase final that had no distinct favorite, formchart No. 1 Brian Barraza seized the moment. On a cool, wet evening conducive to distance running, Barraza went to the front from the start and barrier by barrier, lap by lap, built a solid lead over the remaining 11 runners.
Although a fifth-year senior, it was the first NCAA steeple final for the 23-year-old Cougar. He took up the event just 2 years ago as a 4:04 miler and quickly took to it, running 8:32.48 in ’17.
With a lap and a half to go, the trio of Jamaine Coleman of Eastern Kentucky, Steven Fahy of Stanford and Obsa Ali of Minnesota surged away from the pack to make one last attempt to catch the frontrunner, whose lead had grown to some 20m. Barraza was especially efficient over the water jumps, accelerating into the barrier and nearly clearing the pond. He did, however, begin to struggle on the other barriers.
At the bell, still about 15m in front and on pace to run about 8:33 if he just maintained his 68-second-ish tempo of the previous 4 laps, he stutter-stepped as he approached the barrier at the top of the turn. Just four barriers stood between him and the finish line. But when he rose up to clear the first of them, leading with a left lead leg, his foot caught the front of the barrier. He flew across the obstacle and landed with a terrible crash on the track, taking the full force of the fall on his left shoulder. Ali, Coleman and Fahy flew past.
Ali, a 22-year-old junior, had the most run left, shot past Coleman over the 15m just past the barrier that felled Barazza and pulled away to the victory as he, Coleman and Fahy all ran PRs under 8:35. Ali, who was 4th at the bell some 5m behind Coleman in 2nd, closed in 64.48 to Coleman’s 66.61 and Fahy’s 66.98.
“I knew if I was there with 400 to go,” Ali said after his 8:32.23, “I had a chance. It’s unfortunate [Barraza] had to go down. I saw that, and I just took the opportunity and went for it.
“Whether he fell or not, I knew I had to hunt him down. That’s what was going through my mind.”
Ali took up the steeple in ’15, winning the Big 10 title this spring in a PR 8:44.77 and breaking 8:40 for the first time at Regionals, running 8:36.49 to break the 47-year-old school record of 8:39.0 set by Don Timm at the ’71 NCAA.
Ali attended high school in Minnesota—competing for Richfield HS first as a 120-pound wrestler before taking up running—but was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. After his mother emigrated to Minneapolis when he was 3, he lived with his grandmother, then was reunited with his mother in the U.S. 8 years later.
Promising Syracuse frosh Noah Affolder ran 8:40.36 to win one of the semis. That was not only the fastest U.S. Junior time of the year but also moved him to No. 6 American Junior ever. He ran 8:43.72 for 9th in the final.
NCAA MEN’S STEEPLECHASE RESULTS
(June 08; interior water jump)
1. *Obsa Ali (Mn) 8:32.23 PR
2. Jamaine Coleman’ (EnKy) 8:33.52 PR
3. *Steven Fahy (Stan) 8:34.52 PR
4. **Aidan Tooker (Syr) 8:35.41 PR
5. Andrew Gardner (Wa) 8:37.07 PR;
6. ***Matt Owens (BYU) 8:38.09 PR;
7. **Clayson Shumway (BYU) 8:40.15;
8. ***Riley Osen (Port) 8:41.24 PR;
9. ***Noah Affolder (Syr) 8:43.72;
10. Brian Barraza (Hous) 8:44.42 (led by c10m with c300 to go);
11. Max Benoit (MiSt) 8:47.15;
12. **John Rice (Tx) 8:52.81.
SEMIS (June 06)
I–1. Ali 8:39.17; 2. Shumway 8:39.97; 3. Coleman’ 8:40.06; 4. Rice 8:40.22 PR; 5. Tooker 8:40.24; 6. Barraza 8:40.25; 7. Osen 8:43.22 PR;
8. *Mihret Coulter (Char) 8:53.18; 9. ***El Hocine Bouchrak’ (HPt) 8:57.04; 10. ***Wesley Kirui’ (Hamp) 8:57.56; 11. *Dylan Hodgson (Ks) 9:07.59; 12. *Bailey Roth (Az) 9:11.35.
II–1. Affolder 8:40.36 PR (AJL) (6, 6 AJ);
2. Fahy 8:40.53; 3. Gardner 8:41.48; 4. Owens 8:42.35; 5. Benoit 8:44.94;
6. *Emmanuel Rotich’ (Tul) 8:45.44; 7. Andrew Bowman (Oakl) 8:49.43; 8. Spencer Fehlberg (UtSt) 8:51.14; 9. **Parker Scott (Ms) 8:53.33; 10. Jordan Cross (Web) 9:00.82; 11. *Tom Nobles (Char) 9:02.89;… dnf—Hlynur Andrésson’ (EnMi). □