Razorback runners will have short turnaround from indoor to cross country

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, March 12, 2021
Arkansas Amon Kemboi runs during the SEC Cross Country Championships on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.
( LSU Athletics )
Arkansas Amon Kemboi runs during the SEC Cross Country Championships on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

FAYETTEVILLE — Some University of Arkansas distance runners are getting a whole day off between competing at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Crazy as it sounds, the cross country meet is being held in Stillwater, Okla., on Monday after the indoor meet is held for three days through Saturday in Fayetteville.

The bizarre scheduling is the result of the coronavirus pandemic causing the NCAA to postpone its cross country meet normally run in late November.

Lance Harter and Chris Bucknam — who coach the Arkansas women’s and men’s track and field and cross country teams, respectively — have questioned why the championship events have to be held two days apart.

Arkansas women’s track and field and cross country teams are both ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ polls, and the UA men’s teams are both ranked No. 3, so under normal circumstances the Razorbacks reasonably could be expected to compete for both titles.

“I’m disappointed they couldn’t find a way to separate them a little bit,” Bucknam said. “Have them a week or two apart.

“It seems like somebody is forcing us to pick one or the other. I’m disappointed with that.

The NCAA released a statement in request to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette asking for an explanation why the meets were scheduled so close together.

“It was a priority of the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country Committee to ensure that the indoor and outdoor track and field championships run as scheduled after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic,” said the statement, which wasn’t attributed to a specific individual. “The NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee also wanted to ensure that student-athletes, who compete in the fall, be provided every opportunity to participate in NCAA Championships in their respective sports during the spring semester of the 2020-21 academic year.

“Health and safety protocols as well as travel recommendations from the NCAA covid-19 Medical Advisory Group and national experts at the time of the decision to contest both the indoor track and cross country championships, contributed to the championships being days apart.”

What does that mean?

“No one has stepped forward to lay claim to, ‘Hey, we’re the ones that said let’s do indoors and cross country back to back,’ ” Harter said. “Maybe because they’d be so challenged, they’re reluctant to identify themselves.”

Harter and Bucknam said they’re both going all in to compete for the indoor championship and won’t hold back any of their top distance runners only for the cross country meet.

“This is the traditional time of the year for indoor track,” Harter said. “We’re still going with that as our priority.”

Said Bucknam: “We’re focused on indoors, and we’ll deal with cross country after that.”

Arkansas’ women runners who could run at both the indoor and cross country championships are Krissy Gear, Lauren Gregory, Logan Morris, Gracie Hyde, Abby Gray and Kennedy Thomson. Others who could be part of the seven-runner lineup in Stillwater are Taylor Ewert, Corrie Smith and Meghan Underwood.

Gear will run the mile — which has preliminaries and a final — along with the 1,200-meter leg of the distance medley relay indoors. The women’s cross country race is 6,000 meters.

Rather than complain about the workload, Gear said she’s excited to compete in two national championship events in a three-day span.

“For cross country, it’s just kind of going to be a super fun glorified tempo run,” Gear said cheerfully, “with 255 of my best homeys in the NCAA.”

Arkansas senior Amon Kemboi will run the 5,000 and 3,000 indoors before the cross country meet, which for the men covers 10,000 meters.

“It’s kind of crazy, but I’ll be ready to give it my best,” Kemboi said. “We have to recover as best we can on Sunday, forget about what we did indoors and then race to the best of our ability. That’s the mindset we’ll bring to cross country.”

Along with Kemboi, Gilbert Boit will run in the 5,000 and 3,000 and in the cross country meet. Other Razorbacks who will run the 5,000 and in the cross country meet are Jacob McLeod and Matt Young.

The cross country lineup also could include Ryan Murphy, Luke Meade and Emmanuel Cheboson.

“I will watch my guys running this weekend very carefully,” Bucknam said. “I’m not going to put any of them in harm’s way if I feel like they’re spent and can’t do it in cross country.”

With some of the top cross country teams focusing on that meet — including BYU and New Mexico for the women, and BYU and Northern Arizona for the men — Harter and Bucknam said they both would be pleased if their teams finish among the top 10.

“The reason for us to still run the cross country race, it’s a free ride in the respect that there’s no eligibility lost and everybody will be back next year,” Harter said. “It’s a chance to get some experience and find out what it’s all about to run at a national meet with 250 people crowding you for the first 1,000 meters.”

Gear said it never occurred to the distance runners to ask to focus only on the cross country meet.

“That wouldn’t be fair to everyone else on our track and field team — the sprinters and vaulters and jumpers — for us not to give our best indoors the same way they are in their events,” Gear said. “So after the indoor meet is over Saturday night, I’ll turn my attention to Monday.”

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