Rooks breaks steeplechase school record at Sound Running Track Fest
LOS ANGELES — BYU men’s steeplechaser Kenneth Rooks rewrote BYU and NCAA record books with a historic, all-time great race, going 8:17.62 at the Sound Running Track Fest at Hilmer Lodge Stadium on Saturday night.
Rooks ran a steady, patient race before gathering himself to counter former Olympian Hillary Bor’s move with 800-meters to go. After withstanding Bor’s initial onslaught, Rooks delivered a knockout blow, running the final lap in 59 seconds to beat On’s George Beamish by three seconds.
“He won in a superlative way,” BYU director of track and field Ed Eyestone said. “He was patient, cool, calm, and collected.”
Rooks himself was taken aback by his performance.
“I was honestly a little bit in awe towards the end of the race when I took the lead with 200 to go,” Rooks said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m actually going to win this thing today.’ It’s cool to win and accomplish some things I didn’t even think about accomplishing.”
With his performance on Saturday night, Rooks becomes the 2023 men’s steeplechase world-leader and the event’s fastest American collegian in history. Across all nationalities, Rooks now ranks second in NCAA history to only Henry Rono of Washington State. Rono, a native Kenyan, ran 8:05.4 in 1978. Rooks also broke three-time Olympian Henry Marsh’s BYU school record 8:21.60 set in 1977.
“Kenneth’s run was one of historic proportions,” Eyestone added. “Watching it all unfold was just one of those goose-bump sort of moments.”
Rooks not only faced and beat Bor but former U.S. Olympian Benard Keter and professional runners from Hoka, New Balance and Under Armour. Rooks credited his competition for his performance.
“This was a big confidence booster for me,” Rooks said. “I felt like I had more to give in the last few races I was in, so it felt good to be in this race today where the other guys pushed me to do what I did.”
A junior from Walla Walla, Washington, Rooks majors in civil engineering at BYU and is just two years removed from a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rooks served in both Kampala, Uganda and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Orem, Utah.
“When you take two years off of running and go on a mission, you wonder what it’s going to be like to get back in shape,” Rooks said. “It’s about trusting and being patient. Your body remembers things really well. It also helps having teammates who have been through it before.”
Twenty of Rooks’ distance teammates are also returned missionaries.
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Garrett Stanford took second in the 3,000m steeplechase with a personal-best 8:51.52. Stanford’s four-second improvement was enough to beat third-place Daniel Vaca of Loyola Marymount by over 12 seconds. The freshman from Carlsbad, California also moved into regional qualifying position, taking 34th in the NCAA West over Hayden Harward of Southern Utah.
BYU commanded the top-five spots in the 5,000-meters with Casey Clinger, James Corrigan and Brandon Garnica in first, second, and third respectively.
BYU returns to Provo for its final home meet of the season at Clarence Robison Track and Field Complex May 12-13.
The USTFCCCA recognized 27 BYU men's track and field athletes with All-Academic honors on July 13.