UTEP’s Munyala Dominated The Steeplechase

Celebrating A Century of NCAA Track & Field Championships

UTEP’s Munyala Dominated The Steeplechase

A confluence of three undefeated steeplechasers gathered at the 1977 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Champaign, Illinois.

Fastest of the year was BYU’s Henry Marsh at 8:27.7. He also owned the fastest PR at 8:23.99 – from the previous summer’s Olympics in Montreal – and was runner-up to two-time NCAA champion James Munyala of UTEP when they both broke the meet record at the 1976 NCAA meet, Munyala leading at 8:24.86.

A month before this NCAA race, Marsh and Munyala tied for the Western Athletic Conference title.

Running in his first NCAA Outdoor meet was Washington State freshman Henry Rono, who had won the NCAA cross country title the previous fall and followed that with a 2-mile win at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March. He showed additional range with his first sub-4 mile at 3:59.8.

In the final Rono – doubling back from the 10K the day before (10th in 29:22.6) – took early command with a pace that strung out the field. About midway, Marsh lagged in fifth place some 10 yards behind a lead group that included Rono and Munyala.

As Track & Field News co-founder Bert Nelson reported, “the real racing began with less than 600 meters left. Munyala bolted to a 10-yard margin over Rono, and Marsh finally got untracked.”

Munyala continued home with a 62.2 last lap (over four hurdles and a water jump) as neither Rono nor Marsh, who had moved up to third, could make a dent. He won in 8:29.51 and became the event’s first three-time champ and said afterward, “if someone had been pushing me I could have run faster.”

All three eventually did run faster.

A week later, Munyala won the AAU Championships in 8:21.59, then an all-dates collegiate best that remained his PR. Marsh bettered that later in the summer at 8:21.55 and as a post-collegian in later years added three American records, the fastest at 8:09.17. Rono set a world record in 1978 at 8:05.4, which remains the collegiate record.

posted: March 29, 2021
The NCAA's First Championships

The NCAA and collegiate track & field will mark a momentous milestone in the spring of 2021 -- the 100th anniversary of the NCAA Championships and with that, the NCAA Track & Field Championships. In June 1921, the University of Chicago hosted the first track & field championships in NCAA history.

This point can’t be emphasized enough: Not only was the event the first for NCAA track & field, but the first championships for any sport under the sponsorship of the NCAA.

To celebrate, over each of the next 365 days, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) will celebrate moments, student-athletes, and coaches that have made a century’s worth of championships special. From humble beginnings to important historical milestones to the modern-day, collegiate track & field has evolved with the American society.

The 2021 edition of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships begin with preliminary round action on May 27-29 in Jacksonville, Fla., and College Station, Texas. The championships final site and culmination of the celebration is slated for June 9-12, 2021 at the newly rebuilt Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

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