Feature Friday: Chasing Maree

The collegiate indoor mile record has changed hands four times in the eight years since German Fernandez broke Tony Waldrop’s 35-year-old standard in 2009. Fernandez lost it to Miles Batty in 2012, who lost it to Chris O’Hare in 2013, who lost it to Lawi Lalang in 2014, who most recently saw Edward Cheserek topple his 3-year-old mark in February.

If you subtract 109 meters and remove the roof, the collegiate outdoor 1500-meter standard hasn’t been touched in the past 36 years.

Sydney Maree established the current high-water mark of 3:35.30 at the 1981 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Maree beat three-time NCAA runner-up Todd Harbour by nearly three seconds, which is the largest margin of victory since the NCAA restored the 1500 as the marquee mid-distance event in 1976. (If you want to look through the history of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, CLICK HERE.)

Maree is one of five men to go sub-3:36 during a collegiate season. However, none have come closer to knocking Maree off his perch than Kyle Merber.

It was five years ago at the Swarthmore College Last Chance Meet where Merber ran 3:35.59 to win the Jim Tuppeny Memorial 1500. Merber used an incredible kick to go from a distant 5th to 1st in the final 150 meters (CLICK HERE to watch Merber’s race).

Time To Scratch The 36-Year Itch?

Name Program Time Date
Sydney Maree Villanova 3:35.30 6/6/1981
Kyle Merber Columbia 3:35.59 5/14/2012
Abdi Bile George Mason 3:35.79 6/6/1987
Brian Hyde William & Mary 3:35.84 5/13/1995
Joe Falcon Arkansas 3:35.84 4/16/1988
Miles Batty BYU 3:36.25 4/15/2011
Lawi Lalang Arizona 3:36.34 5/18/2014
Clayton Murphy Akron 3:36.38 6/10/2016
Joaquim Cruz Oregon 3:36.48 6/2/1984
Edward Cheserek Oregon 3:36.50 5/18/2014

“That day was unreal,” Merber told USATF.org in May of 2016. “The year before I had been injured, and my senior year had kind of been up and down to that point. … It was a matter of kind of getting into the right race, feeling good and executing perfectly – and when I crossed the line I was shocked at how fast I had run. I was excited to say the least.”

That point about “getting into the right race” speaks volumes.

More often than not, the “right race” isn’t in June at the NCAA DI Outdoor Championships. In fact before Clayton Murphy ran the 8th fastest time in collegiate history last year (3:36.38), an NCAA champion hasn’t gone sub-3:37 since Abdi Bile did so in 1987 (3:35.79).

There is a strong very chance the “right race” could happen tonight at 10:15 p.m. ET.

That’s because Cheserek, the current collegiate indoor mile record holder, will be joined by 13 talented men (9 collegians, 4 professionals) in the elite section of the 1500 at the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa, California.

Three of those 9 collegians are Cheserek’s teammates at Oregon (Blake Haney, Matthew Maton and Sam Prakel). Another is Ole Miss’ Craig Engels, who starred at the U.S. Olympic Trials this past July with a pair of top-5 finishes (4th, 800; 5th, 1500) and boasts a PR of 3:37.66. Also entered is Oklahoma State’s Joshua Thompson, who was one of four men to go sub-4:00 during the NCAA mile prelims.

Don’t you dare forget about New Mexico’s Josh Kerr either, because Cheserek certainly won’t. Kerr denied Cheserek’s quest for an unprecedented triple during the 2017 NCAA DI Indoor Championships when he outkicked the Oregon standout in the mile final. Cheserek aimed to become the first man to win the mile, 3000 and 5000 at the same NCAA meet – but settled for the distance sweep instead.

The top professional in tonight’s field, based on PR, is Ryan Hill (3:35.59).

Cheserek has the best chance of any collegian in the race to smash Maree’s 36-year-old mark. If you use Cheserek’s collegiate indoor mile record as a barometer (3:52.01), his equivalent time at 1500 meters would be 3:34.82. Cheserek has already shown the ability to run quickly over 1500 meters when he clocked the 10th fastest time in collegiate history as a freshman (3:36.50).

Only two men’s collegiate outdoor records have been set this decade – Sam Chelanga’s 10000-meter standard of 27:08.49 in 2010 and Donavan Brazier’s 800-meter triumph last year. A third might not be too far behind.