A second NCAA title in a three-month stretch was within the grasp of former Sky View star distance runner Conner Mantz.
The BYU junior charged into the lead approximately 50 meters before the bell lap in an epic 10,000-meter race at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships on Wednesday evening at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Unfortunately for Mantz, Tulsa’s Patrick Dever found an extra gear while sprinting down the final straightaway and reigned supreme against an absolutely stacked field on Day 1 of the four-day meet.
Dever completed the race with a blistering personal record time of 27 minutes, 41.87 seconds, which was just over a half-second faster than Mantz, the silver medalist (27:42.46). The top 10 placers all shattered the previous NCAA meet record of 28:01.30, established by UTEP’s Suleiman Nyanbui more than 42 years ago. In fact, the top 10 finishers all clocked in before the 27:53 mark, including Colorado State’s Eric Hammer, who was fifth (27:44.87).
Mantz was ranked No. 1 heading into the race as he ran a 27:41.16 earlier this season. The Smithfield native was the gold medalist at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, which took place on March 15, in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“I wanted the win; it’s a little disappointing,” Mantz said in an interview with the Deseret News. “But you know you can’t have a perfect day every day and I have to remember that and be happy with second. I might have started the sprint a little too early and it cost me a win today, but it’s hard to know when to go.”
Nevertheless, it’s been a very successful junior year for Mantz, who will now turn his focus to the U.S. Olympic Team Trails, which will be contested at this same venue later this month. The son of Joanna and Robert Mantz has a legitimate chance at finishing in the top three and representing the U.S. in the 10,000 at this year’s Olympic Summer Games.
Mantz was in a good position to claim his first NCAA title in track & field, but Dever took the lead with about 75 meters remaining and finished strong. Dever, who is from England, threw down an impressive 57.37 final lap. Mantz completed the final 400 meters in 58.22, which was the third-fastest bell lap among the 24 competitors.
“Conner was fine,” BYU Head Coach Ed Eyestone said in an interview with the Deseret News. “It was a very fast race. Extremely fast. I thought he had a good race. Looking back, there were no mistakes we would change. He was confident in his kick, and he had the green light to follow his gut (instinct).”
Mantz was in second place for the entire first half of the race as he was just behind NCAA West Preliminary champion Wesley Kiptoo of Iowa State. Kiptoo was in the lead after 16 of the laps, but eventually faded to 11th place. Alex Masai of Hofstra made a couple of very aggressive moves to help keep the field honest and eventually finished sixth. Masai was in front of the pack after seven of the laps.
Mantz dropped to as low as the No. 10 position about two-thirds through the race, but was never far off the pace and ultimately put together a smart and tactical, yet fast performance. Mantz, who finished fourth in this event as sophomore and 22nd as a freshman, ran his second-to-final lap in 1:03.14 to give himself a good chance to prevail.
FORMER AGGIE FINISHES FIFTH
It was a bittersweet day for former Utah State star Sindri Gudmundsson. Gudmundsson became a rare four-time first-team All-American in the javelin, but didn’t have his best day in an event in which he was favored to win.
The Mississippi State graduate student finished fifth with a heave of 248 feet, 0 inches. Gudmundsson elected to transfer to MSU for his final year of eligibility after what would have been his senior season at USU was canceled due to COVID-19.
Gudmundsson was the No. 1 seed in his signature event and had the best throw by a collegian this spring with his 261-11 at the NCAA East Preliminary Championships two weeks ago. The native of Kopavogur, Iceland, is USU’s record-holder in the event with his world class mark of 265-5.
Wednesday’s javelin title was captured by LSU’s Tzuriel Pedigo, who uncorked a 252-7 on his sixth and final attempt. Pedigo was in seventh place heading into the final round. The top five competitors were separated by less than five feet.
Two of Gudmundsson’s teammates at MSU finished second and fourth, respectively. The Bulldogs have been a long-time national power in this event.
While at USU, Gudmundsson placed third (sophomore year), fourth (junior) and sixth (freshman) at nationals in the javelin.
The three-time academic all-Mountain West selection is one of only three Aggies in program history to garner first-team All-America accolades in the same event on three occasions. The others are thrower James Parker and hurdler Corey Murdock. Parker was a four-time first-teamer in the hammer before representing the U.S. in the 2004 Olympics.