JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Everyone seemed to know except the one who should have been most keenly aware.
Gilbert Kemboi turned the corner and closed on what he thought was the final stretch of his conference championship effort in the 3000-meter run. The USC Upstate freshman raised his hand as the officials on the track, fans in the stands, and public address announcer on the mike collectively told him in their own unique ways that the bell lap was just beginning.
“I thought that I was done because there was a delay in the bell as I approached the finish line,” said Kemboi.
“I haven’t sprinted in about 15 years, but I took off across the infield from the pole vault coaching box to yell at him,” reflected head coach Jimmy Stephens. “He almost gave me a heart attack.”
That brief hesitation nearly changed the complexion of the race. However, Kemboi regained his composure and defeated two-time defending A-Sun Cross Country Champion Kenneth Rotich by five seconds on his way to a meet record time of 8:23.37.
“With Rotich behind him, I thought he would get caught,” Stephens said. “It just shows what kind of character he has and what a tough competitor that he is.”
Kemboi, who earned Freshman of the Year honors at the 2009 A-Sun Cross Country Championship, made a strong opening statement in his bid to claim the same honor at the Indoor Championship. He returns to David E. Walker track tomorrow evening in the 5000-meter run. The good news … he is the fourth-seeded runner in the event. The bad news … there are a lot more laps to keep count.
Who do you think will win Freshman of the Year honors at the Indoor Track & Field Championship?