Track and Field

Canada's Justyn Knight wins 1st NCAA Division I track title

Toronto's Justyn Knight won his first NCAA Division I track title on Friday night, capturing the men's indoor 5,000 metres in 14 minutes 14.47 seconds to become the first Syracuse University athlete in 37 years to win multiple individual national titles.

Syracuse senior captures men's indoor 5,000m, looks to complete double Saturday in 3,000

Toronto's Justyn Knight won his first NCAA Division I track title on Friday night, capturing the men’s indoor 5,000 metres in 14 minutes 14.47 seconds to become the first Syracuse University athlete in 37 years to win multiple individual national titles and fifth overall. (Twitter/@CuseXCTF/File)

Justyn Knight had time to process and celebrate his latest athletic achievement before shifting focus to a potentially greater feat less than 24 hours later.

The 21-year-old from Toronto won his first NCAA Division I track title on Friday night, capturing the men's indoor 5,000 metres in 14 minutes 14.47 seconds at College Station, Tex.. In dojng so, he became the first Syracuse University athlete in 37 years to win multiple individual national titles and fifth overall.

The senior runner is also just the second Syracuse athlete to win an NCAA indoor title, joining Jarret Eaton, the 2012 NCAA champion in the 60-metre hurdles. It was the first time Knight ran the 5,000 indoors at NCAAs.

Knight will race the 3,000 final at the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET. In each of the last four years and five of the past six, the 5,000 winner has also been victorious in the 3,000.

Should Knight prevail, he would become the 28th man in NCAA history to score 20 or more points at an indoor track and field championship and only the seventh to successfully complete the 3,000/5,000 double. Retired nine-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis (55m, long jump) and reigning 100 world champion Justin Gatlin (60, 200) are among the track stars to win multiple NCAA indoor titles in the same event.

On Friday, Knight stayed in the middle of the pack for most of the race before pulling away from the field in the final two laps to beat Alabama's Vincent Kiprop (14:15.01) and Oklahoma State's Hassan Abdi (14:15.38). Southern Utah's Mike Tate of Antigonish, N.S., the lone man in the field of 16 to run faster than Knight this season, finished fourth (14:15.67) while Calgary-born Rory Linkletter (14:16.88) of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, was sixth.

"I knew that it was time to go with one lap and we were running slow enough where anyone could've won the race, so we had to get going," Knight, who placed ninth in the 5,000 at the IAAF world championships last summer, told CBC Sports after the slow, tactical race. "I was fairly close [throughout the race] and had a lot of faith in my kick and decided to hang tight and time it right.

"It's my last year at Syracuse, I've always dreamed of a track title and come close too many times to count," he told reporters.

Last November, Knight won his first NCAA cross-country title and was the top finisher on the 2015 NCAA cross-country championship team.

Earlier this season, he earned his 14th and 15th conference titles (10 individual, five team) at the 2018 Atlantic Coast Conference indoor championships, winning the 3,000 and 5,000 and capturing meet MVP honours.

He also boasts the top time in the U.S. by 2.5 seconds after clocking 7:45.34 in the 3,000 last month at the Millrose Games in New York City, where he was the lone collegian in the 12-man field and finished 37-100ths of a second behind Olympian Shadrack Kipchirchir of Kenya.

Contact disrupted stride

In Saturday's 3,000, Knight will be up against outdoor rival Grant Fisher, the Calgary-born runner from Stanford University who won the outdoor 5,000 at the NCAA championships last June.

Knight posted a time of 14:36.23 while Fisher finished less than a second ahead at 14:35.60 for the win. Knight, who led the race until the final lap, cited contact with 400m remaining that threw off his stride.

"I was getting ready to make my move and there was a bit of a tussle [that] threw off my whole stride," Knight said at the time. "I tried to finish strong but the guys got the best of me."

A year ago at College Station, Edward Cheserek of Oregon out-kicked Knight in the final stretch to win his third-career 3,000 title indoors. Cheserek finished his collegiate career last year as the most decorated male Division I athlete of all-time with 17 crowns, three second place finishes and one third.

'I have a lot of faith in myself'

"I know Grant is very talented and I respect him a lot," Knight said. "Just like myself, he will be prepared to run the race, whether it's slow or fast.

"A lot has changed for me since NCAAs last year. I have a lot of faith in myself and I'm a lot smarter, stronger and tactically sound. I'm sure he is, too, and he's going to make it very interesting tonight."

Knight, who is majoring in sociology, is the only distance runner on the watch list of 10 for the Bowerman Award, considered the highest individual honour in collegiate track and field presented annually to the top male and female athlete.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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