Estrada’s blazing 10K earns national honor

Northern Arizona University senior track star Diego Estrada was named a National Athlete of the Week by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Monday afternoon after running the second-fastest outdoor 5,000 meters in NCAA history Sunday night at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif.

“I was surprised to hear I won the award, because I didn’t really realize what I had accomplished at first,” said Estrada, a native of Salinas, Calif. “It is a huge honor, and I’m grateful for it.”

Estrada put on a show for those track and field fans who stayed up in the late hours of Sunday night, smashing both the NAU and Big Sky Conference records by more than 10 seconds with his finishing time of 13:15.33. Estrada broke the record set by former teammate David McNeill three years ago on the same track.

Estrada finished third overall, one second behind Ben True and 2012 Olympic steeplechaser Evan Jager. He clocked the fastest collegiate 5,000-meter time since Washington State’s Henry Rono set the record of 13:08.4 in 1978.

“The fact that the only two guys who finished ahead of me have credentials on a world stage lets me know that I belong up there too,” Estrada said. “It’s another step in the right direction, but I’m definitely still learning as well.”

Estrada sat in 10th place with three laps remaining. He picked off five runners before the bell lap, where he burst past 2011 NCAA 5,000-meter champ Leonard Korir and former All-American Hassan Mead on the final straightaway. Estrada is now ranked No. 1 nationally at 5,000 meters, No. 4 at 10,000 (28:52.73) and No. 19 at 1,500 meters (3:41.90).

He now owns the third-fastest time in the world to date in 2013.

Estrada will take this weekend off as he and his teammates prepare to take on the rest of the Big Sky Conference May 8-11 in Portland, Ore.