WEEKEND PREVIEW: Oregon Pepsi Invitational

WEEKEND PREVIEW: Oregon Pepsi Invitational

With the Countdown to Tracktown down to nine weeks – the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships will be held in Eugene, Oregon, on June 10-13 – it seems fitting to preview the first outdoor meet of the year at Historic Hayward Field.

Saturday’s Pepsi Invitational – which will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Network (and streamed online via its website) – not only gives college track & field fans their first look in 2015 at the championship venue, but also early looks at some teams and individuals battling for national glory later this summer.

No. 5 Kentucky and No. 6 Oregon will do battle for the women’s title (along with Washington), while the defending outdoor champion and two-time defending indoor champion No. 3 Oregon men will roll out the majority of its vaunted distance crew – including NCAA Champions Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins – against No. 24 Kentucky and Washington.

The meet kicks off at 4:30pm ET/1:30pm PT, with live television coverage beginning at 6:30pm ET/3:30pm PT. Live results will be available via GoDucks.com.

Below and on the next page we take a look at some of the key match-ups and individuals based on the entries that were announced by Oregon Wednesday afternoon.

(Note – A few names we won’t see: Defending NCAA/USA 110-meter hurdles champion Devon Allen of Oregon, Ariana Washington of Oregon, former indoor 200-meter champion Dezerea Bryant of Kentucky)

Oregon Distance

Distance Events

Men’s 5000 Meters

7:59pm ET/4:59pm PT

No event in Eugene this weekend has more star power than the men’s 5000 meters, thanks largely in part to indoor national champion Eric Jenkins and returning national outdoor runner-up Edward Cheserek of Oregon. The duo should still be relatively fresh after finishing 27th and 26th in the Stanford Invitational’s 10,000 meters race this past weekend in order to get times that will likely earn them berths into the West Prelims come championships season.

Will they again just settle for qualifying times, or will they race? The two didn’t run this meet a year ago, opting instead for next weekend’s Oregon Relays where they went 1-2 with their now-iconic fist bump. They both crossed the line in 13:46.

Should they decide to open up and really race this weekend, they’ll have a fair amount of competition. They’ll most notably be joined by teammate Will Geoghegan – this winter’s third-place finisher at 3000 meters at NCAAs – and the Washington duo of Aaron Nelson and Colby Gilbert.

Nelson, despite finishing 21st and 20th at the past two NCAA Cross Country Championships, hadn’t qualified for an NCAA track championship until this past indoor season with a big PR of 13:47.42 at the UW Husky Classic. Can he bounce back from a DNF in that same Stanford 10K this past weekend? (Update: Nelson did not start the race at Stanford, meaning he should have been assigned a "DNS" rather than the "DNF" he was given). Gilbert, just a frosh, made a huge spash in the 3000 this winter with a 7:49.25. He hasn’t yet made his collegiate outdoor debut.

Men’s 1500 Meters

6:46pm ET/3:46pm PT

If everyone from the performance lists ends up racing in this event, we could see as many as seven men who have 3:44 or faster credentials – including three finalists from the indoor mile and another who qualified to Fayetteville.

Headlining the field is the Oregon duo of Johnny Gregorek and Daniel Winn, who finished fourth and sixth in said final, as well as Kentucky’s eighth-place Keffri Neal. Neal is better known as an 800-meter guy after his third-place finish at NCAAs a year ago.

Gregorek and Winn are coming off indoor seasons in which they ran 3:57.47 and 3:57.62 for the mile. Also in the sub-4:00 club from this past indoor season is Neal at 3:58.02 and Izaic Yorks of Washington, who ran 3:57.81 during the regular season before not qualifying for the NCAA indoor final.

What’s going on in the sprints/hurdles events and the field events in Eugene? Find out on the next page.