EUGENE - Andrew Wheating unleashed his ferocious kick last weekend to post impressive wins in both the 1500 and the 800 at the Oregon Relays.
Wheating clearly relishes being the hunter rather than the hunted, as he was at the NCAA indoor championships and again at the Penn Relays when he was twice nipped at the finish line by fast-closing Virginia freshman Robbie Andrews.
New Mexico miler Lee Emanuel, a two-time NCAA Indoor mile champion, pushed the pace of the 1500 on Friday and opened up a sizeable gap on the last lap. Emanuel said he knew Wheating was making a charge on the last turn, thanks to the meet announcer, but said there was little he could do to change the outcome.
Wheating’s two losses to Andrews not only set up a compelling sequel in the 800 at the NCAA Championships next month in Eugene, but also highlight his importance to Oregon’s chances to win the team title. Just as Galen Rupp’s stirring victories in the 5,000 and the 10,000 lifted the Ducks into title contention last year, when they ultimately fell just two points short, a Wheating double this year could be essential for Oregon to be in the hunt.
Vin Lannana, quoted in a recent Ken Goe piece in the Oregonian, said that he would leave the decision to Wheating whether or not to double at the NCAAs, as long as “it isn’t crazy.” That leads the casual observer to conclude that the double may be a done deal – what ultra-competitive person – and Wheating is certainly that – wouldn’t want to attempt both if it might mean a national team title.
If Wheating can accomplish the deed, and, granted, that is a very big “if,” it would be a historic accomplishment.
In the past 30 years, only Joaquim Cruz of the University of Oregon has won the mens’ 800 and 1,500 at the NCAA division I championship meet. Cruz did it in 1984, when he was a sophomore at UO, and his feat helped lead the Ducks to a runaway team victory at Hayward Field. Later that same summer, Cruz would win an Olympic gold medal in the 800 meters and, in doing so, set an Olympic record that would stand until 1996.
To duplicate Cruz’ feat, Wheating would have to run four races in four
days: an 800 semi on Wednesday; a 1500 semi on Thursday; the 800 final on Friday (at 5:40 pm); and the 1,500 final on Saturday morning at 10:30 am.
Tough, but not impossible, especially at home in Eugene.
The latest collegiate rankings have Wheating in 6th place nationally in the 800, based on his time last weekend. Ironically, his nemesis (is it too soon to say that?) Andrews is just .02 of a second behind Wheating.
While there are some faster times out there this season, Wheating and Andrews would clearly be the favorites.
The 1,500 is arguably wide open. Wheating’s UO teammates Matthew Centrowitz and A.J. Acosta could be factors. Wisconsin’s Craig Miller, Emanuel, Stanford’s Elliot Heath, and Auburn’s Felix Kiboiywo are among a host of serious contenders with quick times posted this year.
Wheating, perhaps running on adrenaline after three tough races in three days, might be exhausted by the 1,500 on Saturday. But wouldn’t it be great theater to see him attempt it?