Track & Field

After 2 top-10 finishes, Justyn Knight hopes to win his first national championship

Courtesy of Syracuse Athletics

The one title not yet on Justyn Knight's resume is an individual national championship.

Ever since finishing 10th in the 5000 meters at the Payton Jordan Invitational last year, Justyn Knight has failed to miss the podium in any event.

The junior hasn’t finished worse than second place since the New Year, winning races five out of the eight meets he’s competed in. Three of those first-place finishes were at the Atlantic Coast Conference championships, as he earned gold in the 3000- and 5000-meter at the indoor championships in February. Then last month, Knight took home the outdoor 5k crown with a time of 13:52.38.

The one title not yet on his resume is an individual national championship.

He can win that this Friday at Hayward Field, on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Knight will run the 5000-meter with 23 other competitors in a one-race final scheduled for 10:25 p.m. eastern on ESPN.

“It’s not going to be a breeze,” Knight said at an NCAA press conference in Oregon. “We just got to stick toward our goals … and just continue to go.”

Knight ran the nation’s fastest time this year in the event (13:17.51) — the fourth-fastest collegiate time ever — and he won his heat of the NCAA East Preliminary in 14:13.64. The third- and fourth-best times this season, from Southern Utah’s Mike Tate (13:34.28) and Colorado State’s Abbey Jefferson (13:37.23) didn’t make it past qualifiers in the west. Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, the 17-time national champion and most decorated NCAA runner in history, ran the second-best time this season (13:24.72), but he won’t compete due to injury. Cheserek was the only other runner besides Knight to break 13:30 this year.

“It’s very unfortunate that Edward wasn’t able to make it out to the championships this year,” Knight said at the press conference. “He’s done a lot for this sport. (But) even if Ed was here, I think my expectations would stay the same.”

justyn

Courtesy of SU Athletics

The fastest runners left in the competition are Tulsa’s Marc Scott (13:37.45) and Stanford’s Grant Fisher (13:37.77).

“(Knight) knows what it takes,” said Frank Bergin, Knight’s coach at St. Michael’s College School in Canada. “He’s always had a really good perspective on where he could or should be in a race.”

In 2015 as a freshman, Knight finished sixth in the 5000-meter run at the championships (13:50.96). Last year, he improved his time by more than 10 seconds (13:40.40), which would have won him the title the year before. But in 2016 it made him 10th and the Vaughan, Ontario, native failed to reach the podium for the second straight year.

Knight briefly stood on top of the world just over a month ago, thanks to his performance in the 5000-meter at the Payton Jordan Invitational in May. Knight’s 13:17.51 finish gave him the then-fastest time in the world in 2017. While Olympic-level runners have since passed him, Knight is the only competitor in the national championships in the world’s 81 fastest finishes this year.

Jennifer Knight, Justyn’s mother, said he has stayed calm the past week, trying to keep a “winning attitude.” This is Knight’s third year in a row at Hayward Field for the outdoors, and though he’s raced there for other big races, like the world juniors, he wants to make some happier memories there in this event.

“He feels ready,” Jennifer said, “and prepared for it.”

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