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Kenya’s Edward Cheserek Emerges As America’s Top Long-Distance College Runner

1385252784000-NCAACC-01The best college long-distance runner in the United States is not an American citizen. Not yet, anyway. But that technicality has not stopped Edward Cheserek of Kenya from making his mark.

In just 1½ years at Oregon, Cheserek has taken six individual titles, including the mile, individual medley and 3,000 meter races. He took his second cross-country national championship in November, leaving open the opportunity to win four titles in that event. Not even the legendary Steve Prefontaine achieved that feat.

Last spring, Cheserek won the outdoor national championship in the 10,000 and finished a close second in the 5,000. He could have had seven championships, but over the weekend he was leading down the stretch but let up at the end of the 3,000 to allow fellow Duck Eric Jenkins break the tape first.

“When I saw my teammate coming over, I was like ‘let him take it’ because he’s my teammate, we’re not rivals. We’re just trying to score as many points as we can,” said Cheserek after the race.

Such humility is a part of his character—along with intelligence, confidence and talent—that has helped Cheserek fit in on the college campus. He came to the U.S. to attend St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, N.J. five years ago, as part of a one-year program that yearly brought over a Kenyan child.

He arrived with no money and little ability to speak English. What he had was a reputation as a strong runner that followed him from Africa to Jersey.

The reputation was well-founded. Cheserek flourish. He comes from a region of Kenya that is 7,000 feet above sea level. When the track coaches at St. Benedict set up his first race, Cheserek dazzled them. He had to run six consecutive mile-long races and finished his fastest mile in 4:30, his slowest in 4:55. St. Benedict’s has had its share of great athletes, but coach Marty Hannon said Cheserek’s effort eclipsed everyone before him.

“I run smart and then kick,” Cheserek told the Wall Street Journal in explaining his philosophy.

“He understood he had a gift,” Hannon said to the WSJ.

Cheserek, a business-administration major, is in the U.S. on a student visa. Hannon and an immigration lawyer affiliated with St. Benedict’s are working to get Cheserek an “ aliens of extraordinary ability visa.”

That would serve, in effect, as a green card—and the first step in an expedited effort for him to gain citizenship ahead of the 2016 Olympics. However, it is unlikely that Cheserek could be a citizen in time for this summer’s world championships in China.

No worries, however. Cheserek’s focus is on getting faster, not international competition. Not yet, anyway.

Cheserek’s best times in his favorite races—13:18.71 in the 5,000 and 28:30.18 in the 10,000—are significantly below world-class. The rub is that in most races, he has only gone as fast as he has needed to win.

Ever confident, Cheserek says: “I’ll be ready when the time comes.”

Based on what he has done so far, it’s hard not to believe him.

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