By: Michael Weidenbruch with assistance from Ben Weisel
One of the beauties of the indoor season is that it gives us an opportunity to race and to watch events that aren’t often contested. Only raced indoors, the 3k is unique. A favorite race for many, the winter season serves as a time to focus on an intermediate distance and change things up.
Like its outdoor counterpart (the 5k), the 3k is a sublime blend of speed and endurance. Unlike the 5k, the 3k skews more towards mid-distance runners rather than the 10k crowd. In addition, it provides a bridge event between the mile and the 5k which is sorely lacking outdoors (3k steeple is available for those with hip mobility, but for the rest of us there is a need for a flat 3k).
With only 16 runners qualifying for Nationals, it will be a tight competition just to get into the final race. In order to earn a spot in the finals, an elite runner has to be in top form. Last year, great runners such as Steven Fahy and Rory Linkletter missed out on national qualifying even though they ran 7:54. Punching a ticket to Nationals means you get put into a 16 person free-for-all race which requires a strong kick and perfect tactics to win. Basically, the point is that the 3k is a tough race to qualify for which makes it even harder to determine the top contenders. Thankfully, we can look at the form from top runners who were racing during cross country season and how they performed during indoors last year.
With all that said, let’s look at a few people who, if they choose to run in the 3k, have the best chances at bringing home the title this year.
Grant Fisher (Stanford)
The runner-up in cross country finished 4th in last year’s indoor 3k final. Fisher has proven his talent over and over throughout his career. Nearly edging out McDonald in cross country on Wisconsin's home course shows that Fisher is in great shape. After winning his first NCAA title in the 5k in 2017, it looked like Fisher would be winning national titles for the rest of his collegiate career. That, however, hasn’t happened quite yet. This year could be the year where he takes the mantle from Justyn Knight and King Ches, the most dominant distance runners in the country over the past two years.
Winning the 3k national title would be huge for Fisher's legacy. Luckily, he has all of the necessary tools to pull it off. Fisher’s combination of 3:41 1500 speed and 13:30 5k endurance makes the 3k an ideal event for him. Along with his 7:48 PR which is one of the fastest in the nation, Fisher should be considered the favorite to take home his first indoor title.
Morgan McDonald (Wisconsin)
It may seem weird to include Morgan McDonald this high in our preview, but the national cross country champion has some serious range. Morgan McDonald holds the indoor and outdoor mile school records at Wisconsin, in 3:57.83 and 3:55.79 respectively. This kind of speed, along with his 7:51 3k personal best is exactly what a title contender needs. McDonald will likely be expected to focus on the 5k, an event where he owns a PR of 13:15 and seems to be his distance of choice based on his win at the Australian Outdoor National Championship this past spring. A 3k/5k double is pretty common at the indoor national meet, so we can expect McDonald to go for a qualifying spot in both events. Given his accolades, the 3k may actually be a bit of a sweet spot for McDonald, regardless of whether the race goes out fast or slow.
Edwin Kurgat (Iowa State)
Like McDonald, Kurgat may not focus on the 3k, but after his impressive cross country season we would be amiss to not mention him. The Cyclone seems to get better not only every season, but every race. He owns a 3k PR of 7:56 which would not get him into Nationals most years, but I’m betting he improves that significantly especially when you consider he was right behind McDonald and Fisher at Nationals this past fall. If he decides to run only in the 5k, then this is a moot point, but he should have a good chance to continue his improvement and earn a spot on the line in the 3k at Nationals.
Cameron Griffith (Arkansas)
The top returner from last year’s indoor 3k is not Fisher; it is actually Cameron Griffith. The Razorback has one of the best PR's in the 3k at 7:49, and has proven that he is a great tactician after his 3rd place finish at last year's indoor national meet. He had a solid cross country season, barely missing All-American status with a 42nd place finish. This, along with a strong outdoor season in which he qualified for the 1500 meter final, makes Griffith one of the top names to watch in 2019.
James West (Oregon)
Another top returner from last year’s final, West struggled to the finish line this past cross country season. He started out strong, but ended the year coming in 138th at Nationals. Still, West has a ton of talent as seen by his wide range of PR's. He has run 3:37 in the 1500, 7:51 in the 3k, and 13:52 in the 5k. The guy is a monster on the track. While his recent cross country season is a little worrisome, I’m going to bet that he can get back into top form. As long as he runs well enough to qualify for Nationals in the 3k, his 1500 speed should make him a viable threat to beat anyone.
Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin)
First of all, Hoare probably isn’t running the 3k after winning the 1500 meter title during the 2018 outdoor season. Instead, he will most likely chase the mile crown. BUT, if he does decide to run in the 3k like he did last year, then he is going to be a major problem for his competition. As seen by his finishing kick in the 1500 at the outdoor national meet, Hoare can race with anyone in the last 200 meters. With consistent top finishes during cross country season, the Wisconsin ace proved that he is much more than just a strong finisher. He turned in the best cross country season of his career which ended with him earning a 17th place All-Amercan finish. This new found fitness bodes well for Hoare if he decides to race in a longer distance such as the 3k.
Joe Klecker and John Dressel (Colorado)
Colorado had a stellar cross country season, finishing in 4th place at NCAA's, well ahead of their predicted spot. Joe Klecker and John Dressel established a presence up front in that race and took the 8th and 9th individual spots, helping cement a podium finish for the Buffs. The pair redshirted both track seasons last year, but have previously established dominance in this event.
At the 2017 Indoor National Championship, Klecker and Dressel took 4th and 8th respectively. Both hold personal records of 7:51, separated by only one 100th of a second (Klecker’s 7:51.43 to Dressel’s 7:51.44). This duo could be dangerous if they’re able to control the race at NCAA's. Team tactics seem to be one of Colorado’s strengths given their cross country titles in the last decade, and Coach Mark Wetmore is often considered a genius in the running community. If they both choose to focus on the 3k, Joe Klecker and John Dressel could form a nasty 1-2 punch for Colorado and make a push to pick up some big points in this event.
These athletes have put together impressive results in the past, but aren’t necessarily locks to make it to NCAA's. They may be focusing on other events or it’s just too early to know how they’ll fare. Keep an eye on them as the season progresses and they shoot for a spot on the line at nationals.
Johnathan Davis (Illinois)
15th in the indoor 3k last year
Kigen Chemadi (Middle Tennessee State)
13th in the indoor 3k last year
Cooper Teare, Oregon
Jacob Choge (Middle Tennessee State)
Amon Kemboi (Campbell)
13:33 in the 5K at Boston University on 12/1
Lawrence Kipkoech, Campbell
Kasey Knevelbaard, Southern Utah
Aaron Templeton, Furman
More or less the entire NAU squad
Freshmen to Watch
Dylan Jacobs (Notre Dame)
Danny Kilrea (Notre Dame)
Brodey Hasty (NAU)
James Mwaura (Gonzaga)
Jacob McLeod (Belmont)