By Steve Shaff Northern Arizona University Media Relations
LONDON – David McNeill and Lopez Lomong ran just one semester together at Northern Arizona University.
They combined to lead the 2007 Northern Arizona cross country team to a Big Sky Championship and a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. On Wednesday, they will run in the qualifying heats of the 5,000 meters at the 2012 London Olympics and will share their NAU bond.
“We are part of the titles we had here (at NAU),” said Lomong of his teammate. “Even though we represent different countries, NAU is still binding us.”
Lomong says the strong distance history represented in London is a proud bragging point for the program at NAU. One he wants to see continue.
“I set some records here,” said Lomong. “The reason they write (the records) in a book is we need people to go challenge it and break it. We are setting the bar. There is no rivalry. We came here under Coach Heins’ guidance. We had a cross country team that we ran together and records that we broke. We want other people to see what Lopez did, David McNeill did and what Diego Estrada is doing.”
Estrada, who will be a senior for the upcoming track and field seasons, finished 21st in the 10,000m on Saturday in his first international race. Lomong and McNeill will run in the first heat on Wednesday morning with the goal of advancing to the final on Saturday.
They face a challenging heat featuring four runners who have clocked better than 13 minutes in the 5,000m this season. Kenyans Isian Kiplangat Koech and Edwin Cheruiyot Soi and London 10,000m champion Mo Farah of Great Britain are among the competitors in the heat. Americans Bernard Legat and Galen Rupp are both in the second heat.
Lomong, who is running in his second Olympics, has a gold medal among his goals.
“I could not put my shoes on every morning if I could not see that gold medal,” said Lomong. “Everybody goes out to train to be on that podium and see your country recognized internationally. For me, I set my goals every four years or every year that I need to attain these times and be part of this. I inspire myself that way. I look at the gold. We are all running for these three medals.”
Lomong trained in Flagstaff until Aug. 2 before traveling overseas. McNeill has been in London for the duration of the games, participating in the Opening Ceremonies.
“I am still really relaxed and not too overwhelmed,” said McNeill. “The biggest thing for me is be able to share it with my family. It was a big part why I came to NAU to make opportunities like this possible.”
Qualifying for the final will be the first goal Wednesday, and Lomong said it will be a test.
“It is going to take whoever is prepared physically and mentally to go out and deliver that day,” said Lomong. “They are not going to just give it to you. You have to work for it and put your mind to it and strike when it is time to go and cross that line. You get there.”