Edward Cheserek is leaving a legacy that is about more than just running achievements
Five-time NCAA champion. Three-time NCAA Cross Country champion. Three-time Bowerman Award Finalist.
These are just some of the numerous achievements that unashamedly take up a solid chunk of space on Edward Cheserek’s bio on the University of Oregon’s athletics roster.
His social media handle, King Cheserek, aptly describes the senior’s stellar report card with regards to his achievements on both the track and the dirt surfaces of cross country routes. As a high schooler, he set multiple records and had a dominant streak in cross country. In college, he has garnered 15 NCAA titles across cross country, indoor and outdoor track, and he is tied for the NCAA all-time record.
Though he was a heavy favorite to become the first man in NCAA history to own four individual cross country titles, a tight hamstring prevented him from doing so.
No matter. Cheserek is still in the same league as Oregon’s Steve Prefontaine and Washington State’s Henry Rono for winning three NCAA Cross Country titles and is undeniably the most decorated runner of his era.
Seeing Cheserek continue to attack the daily grind has delayed the Oregon coaching staff from reflecting on the significance of his contributions to the program.
“I don’t think we as a community will ever really realize how special that guy is until he’s gone,” Oregon head coach Robert Johnson said. “Ten years from now, we’ll start to go like, “Hey, he’s pretty good.” When you start talking about distance running, his name will be in there.”
“The longer he’s removed, the bigger that legend is going to grow.”
Cheserek is now left with two seasons – the indoor and outdoor track seasons – to don an Oregon singlet. But his coach is looking forward to the future without a Cheserek topping the charts in almost every other race.
“It will be a new challenge,” associate head coach Andy Powell said in a Flotrack interview. “We want him to graduate too. I think it’s nice sometimes to have a different number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 all the time. You can potentially have a good mix.”
Duck sophomore Matthew Maton has watched Cheserek lead by example both on and off the track. Maton has been training partners with Cheserek for just over a year, and consistency is one of the things that he has picked up from his teammate.
“He’s always at practice early, always has his schoolwork in on time, always focused when he gets here,” Maton said. “He went from high school quality to international quality through college just by not missing a workout, almost. I couldn’t think of a day that he has missed practice.”
Besides his athletic achievements, Cheserek is also known for his humble and helpful character. When the team was in Tucson, Arizona, for the Pac-12 championship meet, Cheserek was one of the three who helped to move the coaches’ and trainers’ bags as well as the massage table. As the team prepared to leave for the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, it was Cheserek again who loaded the massage table onto the bus.
“This is the guy that just “completed history,” Johnson said. “But he’s the one out there on the curb carrying all the extra bags. To see someone that could easily have the biggest head, justifiably so, on our team that’s still willing to do the grunt grass work layman type things – those things are what we appreciate about Edward Cheserek.”
Of his stellar career, the one thing that Cheserek will never get to experience is a cross country team victory. Throughout his cross country career, the highest his team ever finished in the nationals was fourth in 2015.
Yet, Cheserek would be willing to trade it all in for that elusive team championship.
“My main focus is on the team,” Cheserek said in an NCAA press conference. “That’s why I run out there.”
His team-oriented approach is so widely known that even his rivals think it is the only way to take him down.
“We all know Cheserek has been one of the greatest NCAA runners to come through college,” Northern Arizona’s Futsum Zienasellasse said. “Hearing him in interviews, I think the best way to beat Cheserek is by beating his team. He seems like a team player, so that’s the way to beat him.”
As the Ducks embark on their track season, Cheserek’s team mentality will definitely come in handy as Oregon strives to defend both the women’s and men’s titles at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Last year, he was called upon to run the mile-leg in the distance medley less than half an hour after he’d won his second title of the championship in the 3,000 meters.
He then went on to become just the second man to win the NCAA cross country title, the indoor 3,000 and 5,000 meters and the distance medley relay, and the outdoor 5,000 and 10,000 meters in the same academic year. Former Duck Galen Rupp is the only other man to have won this string of titles.
“Once again, another nugget, another example of who he is as a person,” Johnson said. “To have that humbling spirit, that mindfulness to be true, be humble, to be kind, to be respectful, I think it’s really, really sets him apart from most. He’s a phenomenal kid.”
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