Have You Seen This? BYU's Kenneth Rooks overcomes fall for US steeplechase title


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TUMBLING OVER THE WATER — To paraphrase Utah golf great Tony Finau, a winner is just a loser who keeps on trying.

BYU's Kenneth Rooks proved over the weekend that it isn't how you start, but how you finish.

The reigning NCAA champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and BYU school record holder took a tumble over one of the barriers just under three minutes into the finals of the U.S. championships in Eugene, Oregon. But the 5-foot-10 junior from Walla Walla, Washington, got back up, pushed to the front of the pack down the stretch — with a group that included several pros — and used the water jump to overtake his competitors in the final 80 meters for his first USA Track and Field national championship.

It was a scenario that "I went through in my head," Rooks told NBC Sports after finishing in 8 minutes, 16.78 seconds — just ahead of Benard Ketter (8:17.19) and Isaac Updike (8:17.69).

That scenario became a reality when Anthony Rotich "stuttered pretty hard" with Rooks trailing at a close distance, he explained.

"I got up, and told myself that I had to go into Henry Marsh mode," Rooks said. "He ran from the back."

Marsh, of course, is the former BYU track and field great who made four U.S. Olympic teams and represented the United States in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at three Summer Olympics from 1976 to 1988. His school record of 8:21.60 was the top steeplechase mark at a school filled with champions in the event for 46 years — until Rooks beat it with his then-American collegiate record time of 8:17.62 last season at the Sound Running Track Festival.

Known for his ability to make up ground with his long strides, Rooks did something the nine-time U.S. champion and two-time U.S. Olympic trials winner did regularly.

"What would I do if I fell? If I did, I knew I had to get up and work my way back slowly," he added. "If I get up close to the pack, we'll see what happens."

So what happened? A national championship happened — the first BYU harrier to win a U.S. championship since Ralph Mann won the 440-yard intermediate hurdles in 1971 as a BYU senior.

A year later, Mann won the silver medal in the Summer Games in Munich, Germany.

No American steeplechaser met the international qualifying standard of 8:15.00 to lock up a spot at the world championships in Budapest in August. But Rooks made the U.S. team for next month's world championships, as announced Monday afternoon, despite the lack of a qualifying standards in the final heat.

Four other athletes from the state of Utah will also head to Budapest as part of Team USA, including three more from BYU.

Zach McWhorter, who recently finished his BYU career as an All-American pole vaulter, qualified after finishing second in Eugene.

Former BYU steeplechase standout Courtney Wayment finished third in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase final to book a spot.

Former Utah State All-American Chari Hawkins finished third in the heptathlon after training under former BYU head coach Craig Poole.

Nico Montanez, a 2016 graduate of BYU, was selected to the U.S. marathon team a month ago, based on his performance in several professional marathons.

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