EUGENE, Oregon — Penn State’s Isaiah Harris saw an opening in the final 200 meters of the men’s NCAA 800-meter final. A big opening.
Harris was positioned close behind UTEP’s Michael Saruni and Emmanuel Korir as they made their final push. But as the two accelerated and began to create some distance, Saruni tripped on Korir’s legs and tumbled to the ground.
Harris saw his moment and took it.
He finished second in the 800-meter final at the NCAA Track and Field Championships on Friday in a time of 1 minute, 45.40 seconds. Korir, who held off Harris’ kick a late kick won in 1:45.03.
“I saw an opening and I thought this must be opening for a reason,” Harris, a native of Lewiston, said.
Saruni’s fall in the final 200 meters proved to be the difference for Harris. He was positioned far enough back that he wasn’t affected by it but still had to jump over Saruni’s arm as he passed.
“I was just thinking, ‘Avoid everything and just go for it,’” Harris said.
Harris even came close to catching Korir over the final 100, but Korir’s last push forced the Penn State sophomore to take second. Harris still thought he could have won.
“I’m confident in my speed,” Harris said. “But he’s also super-fast. I did believe in myself, but I just didn’t have it.”
Korir said that after Saruni fell, his focus turned to simply winning the race.
“I didn’t feel anybody,” Korir said. “After my friend (Saruni) fell, I wasn’t thinking about anything.”
Harris had qualified for the final with the second fastest time in the field. His 1:46.62 in the semifinals trailed only Saruni.
But heading into the final, most of Harris’ attention was on Korir, who came into the NCAAs with the top collegiate time this year. Harris recognized the challenge that the freshman from Kenya presented.
“He’s good, you can’t deny the facts,” Harris said after qualifying for the finals Wednesday. “The kid is naturally talented.”
Harris is no stranger to championship meets. On top of this being his fourth NCAA Championship meet (indoor and outdoor), the sophomore already owns four Big Ten titles in the 800 and competed in the 2016 Olympic trials. He has also run the fastest indoor and outdoor 800 times in Penn State school history.
In just over two years, Harris has emerged as a up-and-comer in the world of track and field. His name is riddled throughout the Penn State record books, and he has his eyes set on the 2020 Olympics. He credits his hometown for all that he’s accomplished so far.
“The whole time I’ve been growing up — high school, middle school — I’ve had a lot of good influence around the city and people who have helped me,” Harris said after his semifinal race Wednesday. “So, just thanks to everybody back home.”
Penn State sophomore Isaiah Harris pulls away from the field in the home stretch of the 800-meter race during last month’s Big 10 Outdoor Track and Field Championships at University Park on the campus of Penn State. Harris won the race.