DES MOINES, Iowa — Lopez Lomong is a runner of many talents. Ten years ago, on this very same track, he won his first national title in the 1,500-meter, a feat he duplicated a year later.
On a rainy Thursday night at Drake University’s storied track, this time at the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, Lomong ran away with another national title, this time in the 10,000-meter.
It’s his second consecutive 10,000 national title — both earned on this track.
“The race was exactly how I pictured it was going to go,” he said after the race. “I was trying to drop as many people as possible, run a tempo and try to come out of here not too beat up. I’m really happy that I came back here and doubled.”
Now 34, Lomong dropped his personal best to well below the IAAF world championships standard (27:40), crossing the line in 27:30.06. He finished far ahead of 2016 Olympians Shadrack Kipchirchir (27:47.71) and Leonard Korir (28:01.43).
Even better, Lomong qualified for his third world championship team and first since 2013, making up for several frustrating years where he struggled with injuries.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “A lot of injuries, hamstring problem, sciatica, little bit of an IT band situation. I went literally without making a (U.S.) team since 2013. I missed ‘15, ’17 (world championships). It hurts. It hurts to sit down and watch on television and see all these guys running really well. I missed the 2016 Olympics, my third Olympics. (I told myself) I need to get back to the winning circle again. That’s what I did.”
One of the lost boys of Sudan, Lomong famously made the 2008 Olympic team shortly after becoming a U.S. citizen. He carried the U.S. flag into the Opening Ceremony of those Games, then made it to the semifinal of the 1,500.
Four years later, he finished 10th in the 5,000 at the Olympic Games London 2012. At the 2013 world championships, he was back competing in the 1,500, again making the semifinal but not moving on.
Then the injuries began to accrue. He missed qualifying for his third Olympic team in 2016, and it killed him, he told FloTrack.org. A year later, he finished fifth in the 5,000 at the USATF Outdoor Championships, again missing an international team.
Something had to change. Lomong liked running too much to step away. But first, he had to address the persistent injuries. He worked with a chiropractor in Phoenix, Arizona. Then in 2018, his coach suggested he try the 10,000.
“I try to test as many challenges as possible,” Lomong said, but then admitted that his first response to the longer distance was not favorable.
“Twenty-five laps? Are you kidding? Forget it,” he thought.
His first official 10,000 on the track was in March 2018 — the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford University.
“It was terrible, I finished second and was like, forget it, I’m not doing it anymore,” Lomong admitted.
But then he thought about it. Why not the 10,000? He had run cross-country in college. “I can do this,” he told himself.
Now he likes the distance.
“I cherish it because the older you get, why not?” he said. “I don’t want to walk out of the sport and look back and say I wish I could have done this. This is the moment.”
Lomong is doing the 5,000/10,000 double at the USATF Outdoor Championships, with the 5,000 on Sunday. But he is looking farther ahead than that.
“Hopefully next year I can make the Olympics in the 10,000 meters,” he said, then added another “hopefully.”
In the women’s 10,000, two-time Olympian and American record holder Molly Huddle claimed her fifth consecutive national title in 31:58.47. With four laps to go, she took the lead from training partner Emily Sisson, who faded but passed Kellyen Taylor in the final stretch for second place in 32:02.19 to Taylor’s 32:02.74.
It was Huddle’s 28th national title.
“That’s pretty special,” she noted, adding that many of those titles came in road racing. “Track titles are hard so those are really special. I definitely don't take any for granted, especially at this point in my career. I try to soak it in and hopefully I’ll have another one next year.”
For the Tokyo Olympics, Huddle is hoping to qualify in the marathon.
Of note: Although Taylor finished third, Marielle Hall, who finished fifth in the 10,000, will represent Team USA at world championships because she has met the IAAF standard (31:50). Taylor’s 32:02.19 fell just 12 seconds short.
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The first night of the outdoor championships also featured finals in women’s javelin and triple jump, and men’s discus. Here are the world championship qualifiers from those events:
Women’s javelin: 2017 world championship qualifier Ariana Ince won her first national javelin title, beating eight-time national title holder and three-time Olympian Kara Winger with a throw of 61.06. Winger marked 59.73 for second place, and Jenna Gray threw a personal best of 57.29 to finish third. Gray threw javelin and played volleyball at Stanford University.
Women’s triple jump: Keturah Orji, who finished fourth in the triple jump at the 2016 Olympic Games, qualified for her second world championship team with a jump of 14.56. Tori Franklin was just behind in 14.36 for her second world championship team, with Imani Oliver in third with a season’s best jump of 13.86.
Men’s discus: Sam Mattis won with a season’s best throw of 66.69. Brian Williams finished second with a personal best of 65.76, and Kord Ferguson rounded out the podium with a personal best of 63.25.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.