Track and Field·Profile

Justyn Knight driven to win 1st NCAA track title

Syracuse runner Justyn Knight has put his world qualifying standard in the 5,000 metres to the side as the Canadian pursues his first NCAA track title next month in Oregon. Next up is this weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference championships in Atlanta.

Toronto runner 'can't get complacent' after setting world standard in 5,000m

Justyn Knight of Toronto set a world standard for this season in the men’s 5,000 metres at last week's Payton Jordan Invitational. But the Syracuse junior cross-country runner's ultimate goal is to win a NCAA title in June in Eugene, Ore., before competing at the world championships in August. (Source: Syracuse Athletics)

​There was something amiss with Syracuse Orange runner Justyn Knight last weekend after he set a world standard for this season in the 5,000 metres at the Payton Jordan Invitational.

The Toronto native likes to celebrate victories for 24 hours before getting back to business, but an outpouring of love kept him from training a little longer.

"I was overwhelmed with the amount of tweets and text messages. I got at least 60 texts and for tweets I think it had to be in the hundreds between the mentions, retweets and notifications," Knight said in a phone interview this week. "It was really cool to see people congratulating me and I took about 48 hours to soak in the essence of all the fame.

"One of my goals from the beginning has been to win an NCAA [track] championship, so I can't get complacent."

The 20-year-old returned to practice Monday "acting like nothing happened" a few days earlier in Stanford, Calif., where Knight broke a school record and set a personal best time of 13 minutes 17.51 seconds.

His time not only was the fourth-fastest 5,000 ever in a collegiate meet at the event, and one that would have placed Knight 14th in last summer's Rio Olympic final. It also bested the previous Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) record by nearly seven seconds. The mark had stood for 33 years.

The Syracuse junior, who is majoring in social work, also met the qualifying standard for the world championships this August in London, which Knight is "really excited" about but has put in his "back pocket" while remaining focused on competing for an NCAA title June 7-10 in Eugene, Ore.

In Friday's race, Knight held off a furious charge from Australian and 2016 Olympian Sam McEntee, using a 57.63-second final 400 metres to overtake the Melbourne runner for the victory. Oregon star Edward Cheserek, whom Knight beat for the first time in finishing second at the NCAA cross-country championships in November, finished fourth in 13:24.72.

Cheserek is the two-time defending NCAA champion in the 5,000 and the most accomplished U.S. college runner in history with 17 titles.

In December, Knight pinned the following tweet: "If you want to get to the next level, you have to realize that being good isn't good enough."

"It's fantastic to run what I did [at Payton Jordan] but there's always somebody in the world better than you and working harder," Knight, a five-time all-American between cross-country and track, said this week. "I recognize what I want to do is bigger than just being great in the NCAA.

"Ches has always been the guy everyone has feared but being friends with him humanizes him in a way. Humans aren't invincible.

"He might come back at NCAAs and destroy everybody, who knows," continued Knight, who recently was named Syracuse's top male athlete for a second consecutive year. "You beat him [twice] and have to work hard to make sure you can beat him again, eventually."

Knight's season continues this weekend when he'll run his first 5K at the ACC Championships at Georgia Tech in Atlanta after racing the 1,500 at the event in his freshman year and the 10,000 last year.

In only his fifth full season of running, Knight has taken racing to another level, from winning the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational in October, to repeating as the ACC indoor champion in the 5,000 in late February, to finishing 0.3 seconds off Cheserek's winning time in the 3,000 at the NCAA Division 1 indoor track and field championships in mid-March.


A contributing factor to Knight's success stems from a conversation he had last summer with Chris Fox, head cross-country/track and field coach at Syracuse, shortly after Knight missed the Rio Olympic qualifying standard in the 5,000 by 1.36 seconds.

Knight admitted to working out too hard throughout the 2015-16 season and Fox told the Canadian he needed to better balance the hard and easier training days while preparing for competition.

"He doesn't try to overuse our bodies by doing everything we could," said Knight of his coach. "We don't even lift weights here at Syracuse. We mainly run and do core [exercises] three times a week. I don't do crazy mileage, either, about 60 miles per week.

"Looking forward in my career, there's more stuff that goes into being a pro. It makes me wonder how much I'll be able to lower my time in the future.

"I recognize what I want to do is bigger than just being great in the NCAA. I want to be great when I'm a professional." 

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