In our most recent article, we spoke about Amon Kemboi, the rising star from Campbell who is beginning to enter the prime of his career. His 13:33 season opener for 5000 meters caught little attention, partly due to the monster performances that took place prior to his race.
I am, of course, referring to the women's 5k at Boston this past weekend. The meet hosted a field stacked with numerous NCAA elites such as Weini Kelati, Sharon Lokedi, Allie Ostrander, Elise Cranny, and Ednah Kurgat (among others).
What happened in that race was unprecedented, unexpected really, despite the caliber of competition that we knew was entered. Ednah Kurgat took home the win in an NCAA #3 all-time result of 15:14. She led a total of eight women under 15:30, including three who now sit among the top 10 all-time for the collegiate indoor 5000 meters.
In the eyes of many, this may have been the fastest indoor 5k the NCAA has ever seen and the numbers make it hard to argue against. Yet, what Kurgat accomplished was so much more than a fast time. In many ways, she reaffirmed the idea that she is the best long distance runner in the collegiate system.
That, however, may be an unpopular opinion when you consider her most recent cross country season which lacked clear, concise victories that we are so used to seeing from women of her talent level. In many ways, Kurgat has something to prove after winning the 2017 national title, going undefeated during the 2017 cross country season, and then failing to defend her crown in 2018. In fact, Kurgat never even secured a victory this past fall, in part because of teammate Weini Kelati who rose to a new tier of unexpected dominance in just her second year with the Lobos.
Maybe that's why running 15:14 and emerging as the winner over a historic field in Boston was the first step towards redefining Kurgat's position among the nation's best.
Could a performance like that establish Kurgat as the unmistakable (but not overwhelming) favorite to win the indoor and outdoor national titles just like Karissa Schweizer was? With Dani Jones likely dropping down in distance to focus on the mile and 3000 meters, the indoor 5k does not appear to have an obvious superstar.
Yes, other women like Kelati, Lokedi, Ostrander, and maybe even Monson will put their names in the National Championship conversation, but Kurgat just earned her first win in seven months. The electric display of strength that we saw at Boston could reignite her momentum from the 2017 cross country season and carry her into an exorbitant amount of success for the 2019 track seasons.
Is this the start of a changing narrative where Kurgat is actually better when racing around the oval than on the grass? A lot of that depends on what she does from here, but in all honestly, what else does she need to do now? The 3000 meters may be too short for us to truly get a gauge of her fitness while she has essentially done everything she can in the 5000 meters (barring a collegiate record).
In my eyes, the glaring objective for the New Mexico veteran should be consistency. Can she beat the NCAA's best women more than once? Can she win races using a variety of race tactics? Can she show that her 15:14 wasn't just a once in a lifetime performance?
Regardless of what happens on the track, let's remember one thing. We are possibly witnessing the greatest era of women's long distance running in NCAA history. Even if Kurgat doesn't record another national title, she will still be among a group of legendary women who have set the bar far higher than many of us could have possibly imagined.