For Begley, 32, a Beijing Olympian at 10,000 meters, her victory was bittersweet. With 16 laps to go in the 25-lap race, she latched onto the back of NCAA 10,000-meter champion Lisa Koll, an Iowa native, who pushed to the lead and brought the small crowd to their feet. And there Begley would stay, lap after lap, as Koll churned out steady 76 and 77-second circuits.
“I’m usually the one who leads and people sit on me,” Begley told reporters after the race. “Alberto told me just to wait until 800 to go. But, I feel really guilty doing that. I mean, I’m ten years older than Lisa. I feel so bad doing that for 25 laps.”
Each time Koll came down the homestretch with Begley in tow, the crowd would cheer for the Iowa State star, something which Koll said made a big difference in her performance.
“The crowd was awesome,” Koll said after the race. “I walked out, and I walked down the backstretch and I could hear everyone just like, ‘Go Lisa, go Iowa State!’ When I came down the front, there was like a roar. There’s nothing like that to pump you up.”
Koll knew that she couldn’t outkick the faster Begley, so she began to pick up the pace with three laps to go. She ran 74.8 seconds, then 72.9 for the penultimate lap, but she could not shake Begley. With about 500 meters to go, Begley surged to the lead to take the bell, and within a few strides she had a big gap on Koll. The former Arkansas Razorback ran her last loop in 65.2 seconds to win in a stadium record 32:06.45.
“This race was all about how fast I could go the last lap,” Begley explained. “To compete at the world level, they close in 56.” She added: “Right now my goal is to get closer and closer to 60 seconds.”
Koll, who clocked in at 32:11.72, was satisfied with her runner-up finish in what would probably be her last race in Iowa until, perhaps, next year’s Drake Relays. “I knew she was going to be there at the end,” Koll said of Begley. “I think anybody who’s done a lot of races, who’s seen a lot of races, knows that she’s really great. I knew that she was going to be feeling good.”
Rupp’s race was similar to Begley’s, but was a painfully slow affair in the early laps. The first kilometer was passed in only 3:06.7, and halfway in only 14:57.5.
“You never know in championship races,” Rupp said with a chuckle about the slow pace. “Last year when I was in the NCAA’s it kind of got me used to it, going out slow and just being ready for anything.”
Rupp stayed well back in the pack, and was in 17th place with 19 laps to go. But the former Oregon Duck responded quickly when James Carney threw un a 62.9 second lap with 16 laps to go and took the lead. Patrick Smyth, Ed Moran and Ryan Sheehan also covered the move, creating a small separation from the main field.
But the pace would soon sag and the field came back together until Smyth ran a 66.2-second lap with six laps to go. Smyth faded, leaving Moran on the lead, dropping everyone but Rupp.
“I made some good decisions and put myself in good places and responded to all the moves,” Moran said of his strategy.
All but one. With 600 meters to go, Rupp decided it was time to put the race away and quickly spurted ahead of Moran. Running easily, he split the last 400 meters in 59.5 seconds to secure the win in 28:59.29 to Moran’s 29:03.07. Winning, Rupp said, was what tonight’s race was all about.
“It was like Al Davis said, ‘Just win, baby,’” Rupp said referring to the former American football coach. “That’s all we’re trying to do in these races.”