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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Lalang and Sambu shatter national collegiate 5,000-meter record at Millrose Games

Fewer than 24 hours after competing in the 5K at the Millrose Games in New York City, UA distance runner Stephen Sambu received a phone call from his father in Kaptagat, Kenya.

The call came for good reason — Sambu and fellow Arizona distance runner Lawi Lalang had record-setting performances that were broadcast on airwaves around the world.

“My father said, ‘We heard about you and Lawi all over the radio, they said you broke records,’” Sambu said.

Lalang, a sophomore, and Sambu, a senior, were invited to race individually in the 5K at the Millrose Games in New York City last weekend, which is one of the most prestigious track and field events in the country and had the largest audience and best competition that either athlete has faced in college.

The competition was blown away.

Lalang and Sambu broke the 3-year-old NCAA record of 13:18.02 with times of 13:07.15 and 13:13.74. According to Lalang and Sambu, a chain reaction led to achieving such a quick pace.

“It’s really nice having Lawi there, we push each other to go faster,” Sambu said. “We motivate each other. I am happy for him and he is happy for me.”

UA volunteer assistant coach Bernard Lagat eventually won the race, setting a U.S. record with a time of 13:07.15, and both Lalang and Sambu took turns running in the lead for stretches of the race.

“It went very well, Bernard led the first leg, and then me, and then Stephen took over,” Lalang said. “The last few laps were tiring but we kept each other going.”

But that chain reaction was no coincidence. Head track and field coach James Li said Arizona devised a plan that would give the trio of runners a chance at a historic performance.

“We planned a pace and it was a pace that they could all run together,” Li said. “We were very happy to stick with the plan we mapped out, and they executed to a tee, it was amazing.”

A record-setting performance wasn’t all that the runners took away from competing at the highest level they’ve seen yet. Now they know what to expect as they ascend the distance-running ladder into the world’s most prestigious events.

“The pace was so much faster,” Sambu said. “After that race, I feel like I am ready for the next level. I’m not scared. Nervous, maybe, but confident and ready.”

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