Canadian Justyn Knight finished his NCAA cross-country career in style, winning the title in his fourth and final Division I championship on Saturday at Louisville, Ky.
The Syracuse University senior grabbed the top spot with a time of 29 minutes, 0.11 seconds over 10 kilometres in the 79th annual men's race. The Northern Arizona University duo of Matthew Baxter (29:00.78) and Tyler Day (29:04.55) rounded out the podium.
"It's a feeling like no other," Knight, who finished 143rd at the event in his freshman year, told CBC Sports' Doug Harrison in a text message. "There was no real strategy. I just knew I had to go out there and put myself in a good position to win.
"I started getting a cramp in my stomach at four [kilometres] but I was thankful to race smart enough to finish well. It still hasn't sunk in but it will soon."
The Toronto native is the first individual NCAA champion in Syracuse cross-country history. Knight's individual title is also the first by a Canadian at the NCAA championships since Villanova's Sheila Reid won consecutive championships in 2010 and 2011 and first by a Canadian male runner since Simon Bairu (Wisconsin) in 2004 and 2005.
Knight, 21, was sixth at the four-kilometre mark, moved into third spot midway through the race, entered the lead pack of four at eight kilometres and was second entering the final stretch at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park before kicking past Baxter. Knight repeatedly looked over his right shoulder down the stretch and patted his chest with both hands as he neared the finish line.
Canadian sprinting legend Donovan Bailey congratulated Knight on Twitter.
He's the first to say he's a mama's boy. J-💰and his family are enjoying this one pic.twitter.com/N2jQna2Yhk— @CuseXCTF
Knight won three other times in an undefeated cross-country season, first at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 13, two weeks later at the Atlantic Coast Conference championships at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park and last week at the Northeast Regionals in Amherst, N.Y.
Knight soon will shift his attention to the track after capping last season with a third-place finish in the 5,000 metres at the NCAA Division I championships in June.
Like Saturday, Knight also showed off his remarkable kick in his track and field world championship debut in August at London. In the semifinals, Knight sat 12th with 800 metres remaining left before his patented closing kick vaulted him to fourth in a time of 13;30.27 and a berth in the final, where he finished ninth in 13:39.15, six seconds out of the medals.
Knight attributes his kick to God-given talent, workouts with Orange teammates that focus on uphill running to build strength and good genes. His mother Jennifer was born and raised in Jamaica, a country well known for producing elite sprinting talents like Usain Bolt, Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
Other Canadian results Saturday:
- Ben Flanagan (Michigan), 20th — 29:44.0
- Rory Linkletter (BYU), 39th — 29:59.1
- Mike Tate (Southern Utah), 77th — 30:29.7
- Nathan Wadhwani (Washington State), 94th — 30:37.4
- Ehab El-Sandali (Iona), 157th — 31:13.0
- Ryan Smeeton (Oklahoma State) , 192nd — 31:31.8
- Charlotte Prouse (New Mexico), 12th — 19:49.0
- Nicole Hutchinson (Villanova), 90th — 20:37.8
- Katie Fisher (Villanova), 138th — 21:01.1
- Alexandra Lucki (Maryland), 163rd — 21:11.6
- Martha Macdonald (Georgetown), 168th — 21:14.2
- Evelyne Guay (Iowa State), 175th — 21:18.3
- Bridget O'Neill (Dartmouth), 240th — 22:21.5