Graduating To Stardom


Cross-posted at ArmoryTrack.com. Photo by Nathon Crumpton

We are going to let the stat heads argue this one out. Kyle Merber, the Columbia senior, ran what may have been an American College Record in the 1,500 meters tonight at the Swarthmore Last Chance in suburban Philadelphia.

Merber kicked past Saucony’s Nate Brannen — a 2008 Olympian for Canada — on the homestretch to stop the clock at 3:35.59, just .09 from the Olympic ‘A’ standard and with it creates a bit of controversy.

The issue is this, last July Matthew Centrowitz, running on the circuit in Paris, clocked a 3:34.69 which was decidedly beyond his collegiate season. Given that he did not return to Oregon to run, there is a question about whether that run counts. Track & Field News does not list it as the record. Instead it lists Sydney Maree of Villanova as the collegiate record holder (3:35.30) and Brian Hyde (William & Mary) and Joe Falcon (Arkansas) as the co-ACR holders (3:35.84). Merber also took care of Denis Fikes’ 38-year-old Heps record of 3:37.14. The things you learn after the fact. Even though Fikes’ record has long been listed in Penn’s record book, he never ran that time. That was a conversion of his Heps’ mile record and there was not an official ‘en route’ time. Merber was the first sub-3:40 Ivy Leaguer. Two more followed him in four seconds or so.

[Note that T&FN has weighed in, linking to this story with the headline "Kyle Merber's 3:35.59 Sets American College Record." We will not argue with the bible, which uses the NCAA Championships as a cut-off date.]

But Merber clearly could care less about splitting those hairs. “Thank you so much,” he wrote to his Facebook followers. “I can’t really express my thanks for the support tonight. I’m very much in shock. Best part is the whole Columbia miler crew walks away with PR’s tonight! And graduation tomorrow!”

For Merber, it’s a story that has come full circle in his final academic year in Morningside Heights.

Not long ago, the Half Hollow Hills graduate was facing a competitive running career that was in jeopardy. A unfortunate step on a run impacted a broken bottle, which tore through his shoe and into his foot.

Complications set in. Crutches were employed. Doubt crept in. But he was able to hit the trails again last summer and was finally running pain-free by winter (nearly a year-and-a-half after the injury).

Now everyone has to take a backseat to him — be it Lawi Lalang, Chris O’Hare, Erik Van Ingen, Paul Chelimo, Chris Derrick, Riley Masters or Miles Batty. Kyle Merber is the nation’s No. 1 1,500-meter runner right now.

Wow.

We heard from Merber overnight. Here’s how he explained it:

I wasn’t originally going to be in the fast heat, but we managed to pull a few worthwhile strings to wiggle in. The plan was to get the OT time by just sitting in line and getting dragged along.

I sat right on Liam [Boylan-Pett], and with 200m to go was surprisingly fresh so I made my move and for some reason never tired up. I crossed the finish line and was pretty excited to have won in what I assumed was going to be a 338. Coach Wood and Boylan-Pett ran on the track and were flipping out.

My jaw was on the ground when I heard the time, just full on shock. Things really clicked in practice this week, but I wasn’t expecting it go quite as well as it did. After last year, and the hiccups I had to deal with through out this year, nothing is more satisfying to have this experience with my teammates who are doing amazing things themselves. I still don’t really know what happened, but I am not going to complain.

Note: The equivalent mile time to a 3:35.5 is in the high 3:52s. Incredible.

The Last Chance meet also produced some other fast times that have improved some other athletes’ chances of making it into East Regionals in two weeks.  In Merber’s 1500m heat, Princeton’s Joe Stilin and Trevor Van Ackeren also broke 3:40 (3:39.42 and 3:39.90 respectively), resulting in the second- and third-fastest metric mile times in Ivy League history. Columbia’s Daniel Everett, Mark Feigen and Adam Behnke also set new season’s bests, with each of them running faster than 3:44 in the later heats.  In other events, Columbia’s Harry McFann won the 800m in a new season’s best of 1:48.14, which is also the fastest 800m time for an Ivy Leaguer this season. These fast times have shaken up the East Regional rankings for the middle distances and we hope to have updated listings before the end of today.

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