Cheserek Completes Perfect Season
By: Our Special Correspondent
SAN DIEGO, Calif. -
Edward Cheserek built a remarkable resume this season by charging out hard and powering his way to runaway victories, crossing finish lines without any runners near him all fall. So what would happen when he altered his strategy and had someone running stride-for-stride with him for a change? Cheserek, a junior at St. Benedict's Prep, answered that question emphatically today when he produced a heart-pounding finish in an epic clash with Fustum Zeinasellassie, a senior from North Central High School of Indiana, at the 33rd Foot Locker Nationals at Balboa Park.
Matching surges the entire race, Cheserek wasn't concerned that he couldn't shake his fellow African. He knew that he had an edge in speed over Zeinasellasie, and with a little more in the tank thanks to a conservative start, Cheserek, with Zeinasellassie all over him, hit the gas with 200 meters left to gain a five meter advantage. Cheserek then held off Zeinasellassie as he came roaring across the finish line first in 14:52, No. 11 in course history. The previously undefeated Zeinasellassie was second in 14:53, tied for 15th in course history. The finish is tied for the second closest finish in meet history. Only the 2005 race when AJ Acosta of Oceanside, Calif. won in 15:02 and Michael Coe of Lompoc, Calif. was second in 15:02 was closer.
The Kenyan-born Cheserek, who finished the season a perfect season 8-0, is the second boy from New Jersey to win the Foot Locker title. Brendan Heffernan of North Hunterdon ran 15:13 to win in 1992. Cheserek's time of 14:52 is the fastest ever run by a New Jersey athlete on the course, which has been used for 26 of the 33 Foot Locker finals. The previous Jersey best was 15:09.6 by Bob Keino of Ridgewood in 1993.
``I was very confident the whole race that I could win at the end because my speed was my advantage,'' said Cheserek, ``When I started to kick, I knew I could stay in front of him. It was a great race and I am happy to beat a great runner like Futsum.'' Zeinasellaise, born in Eritrea (a small country in Africa), made a bid to win the race with a gutsy move up the big hill with about a half mile left as he opened a two meter lead on Cheserek. But Cheserek countered with a killer move of his own as he sprinted to the top of the hill to take a step lead.
``I knew if I wanted to win I had to respond whenever he made a move, and then finish faster then I ever have before,'' said Cheserek. Edward's closest race this season before today was when he won the FL Northeast Regional two weeks ago by 25 seconds. ``I knew this would be different, but I was ready,'' said Cheserek, the 5-K champion at the New Balance Nationals last June and the runner-up at the Nike Cross Nationals last year. ``I liked having the competition. It makes winning mean even more when you have to battle with another great runner.''
Cheserek, who broke course records in each of his previous seven races this season, said that Reuben Reina's 14:36 course record set here in 1985 wasn't on his mind. ``Today was all about running to win,'' said Cheserek. Cheserek ran 4:52 for the first mile, 4:53 for the second mile and 5:07 for the last 1.1 miles.
``I just chilled in that first mile (four seconds behind the leader, CJ Albertson of Fresno, Calif.),'' said Cheserek. ``I wanted to be patient and then pick it up. Next year I will try for the record here and maybe I can get it.''
Zeinasellassie, who won the Nike National title last week and was also the runner-up here last year and seventh here in 2008, was gracious in defeat. ``I tried everything I could to win, but everytime I made a surge he responded,'' said Zeinasellassie, who ran 17 races this season. ``I tried to get ahead before the last downhill because I know he has great speed, but he was too strong and I couldn't get past him. In the end, it came down to a kick and he was faster than me. I am proud of how I raced and I am happy for Edward. He's a great champion and deserved to win.''
Cheresek and Zeinasellassie, who had never raced before and never met before Thursday, showed lots of mutual respect for eachother and certainly bonded over the last few days. Prior to the race, about 50 yards away from the start line and out of the sight of all the fans and the other runners, the two shook hands and wished each other good luck.
``He's a nice guy,'' said Cheserek. ``We told each other to race hard and we wished each other well in the race. I feel like we are friends now.''
``I had followed all his times and records this year, but never knew what he was like until he came up to me on Thursday when I was at the course here and just said hi. Then we started jogging together. He's a great runner, but also a very nice person. I hope one day we can train together and run together in college,'' said Zeinasellassie.
Imagine that team!!!
Cheserek's victory puts an exclamation point on arguably the greatest season in New Jersey boys cross-country history. First Christian Brothers Academy finished the season undefeated and No. 1 in the nation after becoming the first team in N.J. history to win the Nike Cross Nationals last week in Portland. And now Cheserek does this! WOW!!! It's tough to argue that the 2011 CBA team isn't the best in N.J. history, and no one from New Jersey has ever had the type of season that Cheserek just completed.
What a year!!!
New Jersey distance running is simply amazing!!!
Here is the New Jersey updated all-time list for San Diego's Balboa Park
14:52-Edward Cheserek, St. Benedict's Prep, 2011 (1st place)
15:09.6-Bob Keino, Ridgewood, 1993 (5th place)
15:10.1-Jason DiJoseph, Paul VI, 1988, (2nd place)
15:12.1-Brad Hudson, North Hunterdon, 1983 (7th place)
15:12.7-Mike Mykytok, Bound Brook, 1988 (3rd place)
15:13.0-Brendan Heffernan, North Hunterdon, 1992 (1st place)
15:15.7-John Coyle, Christian Brothers, 1988 (5th place)
15:16.0-Brandon Jarrett, St. Benedict's Prep, 2007 (6th place)
15:17-Carlos Martins, Newark East Side, 1986 (10th place)
15:18.5-Bill Babcok, North Hunterdon, 1984 (5th place)
15:22.6-Ron Faith, Paul VI, 1985 (22nd)
15:22.8-Kevin Pumphrey, Highland Regional, 1985 (23rd place)
Note: Brad Hudson, who moved from New Jersey to Oregon after his junior year (school year of 1983-84), ran 15:11 to place third in 1984.
Cheserek was one of five New Jersey runners that competed.
*Senior Tim Ball of Piscataway, the N.J. Meet of Champions winner, capped his memorable season with a very strong 16th place finish in the boys race in 15:33. *Senior Blake Udland of Millburn had an off day, placing 40th in 16:54.
In the girls race, senior Holly Bischof of Bishop Eustace, the M of C winner who has battled throught shin splints and a sore hip this season, finished 28th in 18:18, and senior Caroline Kellner of West Windsor-Plainsboro South was 36th in 18:33.
Although he just missed All-American status by one place, Ball was pleased with his result.
``My legs were kind of dead from the long season, but I still ran a good, strong race,'' said the Notre-Dame bound Ball. ``To finish in the top 50 percent in a race with 40 of the best guys in the country is great. Winning Meet of Champions was the biggest goals, but this was great icing on the cake.''
Ball ran 4:56 at the first mile and 9:58 at two miles. ``I just tried to run up with the pack for as long as I could and run my race,'' said Ball. ``I was getting a little tired during the race, but I finished strong and passed some guys at the end.''
It must be noted that the performance comes two days after he spent just about his entire day in airports and on planes. Ball had to endure a two-hour delay on his flight from Newark to Chicago, and then dealt with a six hour wait for his connection from Chicago to San Diego.
``Yeah, the travel wasn't much fun,'' he said. ``My back was killing me. But this was a great experience. Something I will never forget.
Udland just kind of shrugged his shoulder and chalked up his race to one of those days that he just didn't have it.
``I warmed up great, was feeling good, and the weather was nice and warm,'' said the Duke-bound Udland. ``And I was feeling good for the first 1,200 and at the mile (4:56) I was feeling just fine. But then when I went up that hill and got to the top, I was like `uh, oh.' My legs were just gone. What are you going to do. I am disappointed. It's a bummer that I finished last, but it is what it is. I had a great season and running here was a great experience.''
BISCHOF AND KELLNER PLEASED WITH RESULTS
Bischof, ran through the mile in 5:34 and two miles in 11:39, and then picked off a few runners over the final half mile on her way to a very respectable 28th place finish. ``Considering that I didn't know if I would make it through the season because of injuries, to still be running cross-country in December in such a big race is amazing,'' said Bischof, who dealt with shin splints and a sore hip during the season. ``So many great runners and Olympians have run in this race before, so to be out here on the same course and running in the same race they did is an honor.''
Kellner had three goals when she took the starting line for the second straight year. And when she accomplished all three, she flashed a big smile. Kellner, headed to Cornell, finished 36th in 18:33. Last year, she was 37th in 18:37. ``I wanted to run faster and place higher than last year, and have fun,'' said Kellner. ``I did all of that, so I am happy with my race.'' Kellner said that while qualifying for Foot Locker Nationals for the first time last year was exciting, this year was somewhat more special in a different way.
``There was a time this year when I wasn't running very well because of shin splints and plantar fasciitis,'' said Kellner. ``So to get through all that and make it back here with the top 40 girls in the country means a lot to me.''