BYU’s Courtney Wayment wins 3,000-meter steeplechase at NCAA Track and Field Championship

EUGENE, Ore. — Courtney Wayment didn’t merely win the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Track & Field Championships Saturday afternoon; she stole the show.

Three laps into the 7 ½-lap race, Wayment accelerated and proceeded to run away from the field in the pouring rain.

She widened her lead lap after lap – first five meters, then 10 meters, then 15 meters, then 20 meters, then 25, then 30, then 35, then 40 …. She was still pulling away when she hit the finish line.

She won the race by nine seconds.

She broke the meet and collegiate record by eight seconds.

She became the fifth fastest American – college or pro – ever.

She became the fastest American in the world this year, by more than two seconds.

Her time: 9:16.00.

The previous collegiate record was 9:24.41 set by Olympic silver medalist Courtney Frerichs in 2016.

As BYU coach Diljeet Taylor put it, “Courtney destroyed that record.”

Runner-up Kayley DeLay of Yale was barely in the same area code when Wayment crossed the line. DeLay was second in 9:25.08.

Wayment’s performance was an exhibition in strong, confident, efficient running.

She set out to run a fast, even pace and did just that, covering the seven full laps in 73, 76, 73, 74, 73, 73 and 70 seconds.

“The plan was to rely on my fitness, and if anyone was going to come with me I’d put my foot on the gas a little bit more,” she told ESPN afterward.

Said Taylor: “We knew she was the best in the field. If anyone was going to challenge her, they were going to have to run fast to do it.

Courtney executed the race plan perfectly. She ran every split on pace. We wanted a 4:57 first mile and then press the fifth and sixth laps. The race was won there. The last two laps were about getting the collegiate record.”

It was a surprising performance for most observers, but not for Taylor. The night before the race, she said that Wayment was in 9:15 shape.

“That’s what her workouts have indicated,” says Taylor. “I knew she could do it. Now, doing it in the NCAAs and in the rain – that’s absolutely incredible.”

Wayment and Kentucky sprinter Abbey Steiner turned in the top performances of these championships. Steiner blazed 200 meters in a collegiate record time of 21.80.

Like two former teammates, Wayment, a senior from Kaysville, saved the best for last and found a little redemption.

Last fall, teammate Whittni Orton won the NCAA cross country championships in her final collegiate race after years of coming up short.

Last spring, teammate Anna Camp won the 1,500-meter run in the 2021 NCAA outdoor championships in her final collegiate race after years of coming up short.

And now Wayment has won her first outdoor national championship in her final race after years of coming up short in outdoor nationals (but it should be noted that she won three NCAA indoor championships, at 3,000 and 5,000 meters and the distance medley relay).

Wayment didn’t leave anything to chance on Saturday. She learned her lesson in last year’s NCAA race.

Last year, she was the pre-race favorite and easily the most accomplished athlete in the field, but her strategy betrayed her. She hung back with the pack, hoping to  outkick her rivals in the homestretch.

She stumbled on the final water jump and finished fourth.

This year, she ran her challengers into the ground, preventing any opportunity for someone to steal the race on a homestretch kick.

She was simply much too strong and fit for the rest of the field to run with her.

Among Americans, only the following have run the steeplechase faster than Wayment:

  • Frerichs, the Olympic silver medalist.
  • Emma Coburn, the world champion.
  • Colleen Quigley, an Olympian.
  • Jenny Simpson, an Olympic bronze medalist and world champion at 1,500 meters.

“She’s the next big thing in the steeplechase,” says Taylor, whose athletes have claimed five individual national championships and an NCAA team cross country championship the last two years.

Wayment’s performance gave BYU two national champions in the same meet (teammate Ashton Riner won the javelin on Thursday) and the third in two years (Camp won the 1,500 in the 2021 NCAA championships).

The wins by Wayment and Riner — plus an eighth-place performance by Halley Folsom in the heptathlon — gave BYU 21 points, which tied for ninth place in the team standings.

Traditionally, many of BYU’s great female track athletes have quit the sport at the end of their collegiate careers, but that is changing.

Orton and Camp have both turned professional, and Wayment will join them. She is considering two professional contract offers and will decide on one of them in the next two days.

She will continue to live in Provo and train with Taylor.

Wayment already has measured herself against professionals. She finished fourth in last summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials, one spot short of making the U.S. Olympic team.

She appears to have taken another big step forward this season. She will return to Eugene, Ore., in two weeks to compete in the USA outdoor track and field championships.

The top three will make the U.S. team that moves on to the world track and field championships, which will be held again on the same track in Eugene July 15-24.

With another big race ahead of her, Wayment has little time to celebrate her sensational NCAA performance.

Note: Three other Utah collegians competed on Saturday – BYU junior Sable Lohmeier was 19th in the discus and sophomore teammate Cierra Tidwell tied for ninth in the high jump; Utah junior Cara Woolnough was 12th in the 5,000-meter run.

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