Ben Flanagan of Kitchener, ON rounded out his university athletics career, just the way anyone would dream of it happening, by winning the NCAA 10,000-metre championships.
He won the event Wednesday in Eugene, OR, at Hayward Field, stunning all. Flanagan and Coach Kevin “Sully” Sullivan’s pre-race plan, however, was to be there in the hunt for the entire 25-lap race, if he could. Clearly, they believed in the possibility of the win.
“Sully and I chatted before the race and decided that the goal was to stay in contact with the lead group the entire race and be the last guy to make a move. There were lots of amazing athletes pushing the pace early, so I just wanted to tuck in and stay as relaxed as possible until the final homestretch. Fortunately, it all worked out!”
The fifth-year University of Michigan Wolverine’s previous best placing in any NCAA event was 14th. The race video shows Flanagan out-kicking Alabama’s Vincent Kiprop, a Kenyan, who ran a 28:19.07 just six weeks ago.
Asked what led to this apparent new level of fitness, Flanagan told Athletics Illustrated, “Sully is so meticulous and purposeful with his training plans. We’ve developed quite a level of strength over the past five years. So this year, we put a large emphasizes on speed work. I’ve been closing workouts faster than I ever have before, especially 400’s and 200’s and have felt good doing it. To top it off, I’ve had amazing teammates as training partners. These guys push me every day and even stuck around after their seasons were over to help me out with my workouts heading into NCAA’s. All these factors helped me approach this championship with more confidence than ever.”
Flanagan’s previous best was a solid 29:13.72, he finished the NCAA’s in 28:34.53 – an outstanding near 39-second improvement. His best in the 5,000-metres, from two years previous, is nearly the same pace at 14:06.85.
Watching the race, it is clear that the Flanagan-Sullivan plan was going to work, as his decisive kick looked unbeatable and it was. Asked when he knew that he had the opportunity to win, Flanagan said, “The last 80-metres, I knew I had a shot and just kicked as hard as I could. I really felt the Hayward magic out there, the fans were incredible and it was such a fun experience. However, I didn’t truly believe I had it until the final three metres, and I think I went through every emotion imaginable. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to replicate that experience, it was amazing.”
As for the legendary coach’s contribution to Flanagan’s performance, he added, “He is a legend. It comes from experience. He has provided me with an incredible experience at Michigan, and I am so grateful to have him as a coach. Not only does he provide excellent training plans, and competitive advice, but he cares so much about his athletes and instills a level of self-belief that is incredibly humbling, yet motivating. I hope everyone gets the chance to meet Sully, it really is a special privilege.”