Wednesday night, Track Town USA: Perfect running weather, temperatures around 70. The men’s 10,000 — the last event of the day and the only final — toes the line.
And University of Kentucky sophomore Jacob Thomson finds himself at the front.
“I just got off the line well, and I don’t like being swallowed by big packs so I wanted to get out of traffic early,” Thomson said. “I had no intention to lead but it was a pretty slow start so I was content.”
Thomson, a Louisville native and Holy Cross alum, won both the 5k and 10k SEC championship titles this season. He opted to run only the 10k at NCAA regionals, qualifying with a third place finish in a tactical race.
“The SEC championships were a huge stepping-stone for me,” he said. “To be able to step up and win my first two conference titles and put 20 points on the board for the team was something I am very proud of.” Kentucky’s men’s team went on to finish third in the conference.
Thomson, a 12-time Kentucky state champion, ran two years at North Carolina State before transferring to the University of Kentucky. He also qualified for the outdoor national championships in the 5000 last year.
This year, he was ready.
“The workouts this season have stepped up a notch,” he said. “Coach Graham and Coach Flo really challenged me and set very high expectations for me this year.”
In the fall, Thomson finished 44th in the cross-country championships, held in his hometown. “I missed racing in front of a home crowd and having that pressure on me,” he said.
Thomson describes himself as thriving under pressure, and racing at the national championships in what’s known as Track Town USA — Eugene, Ore. — is certainly that.
“I love going to big meets like this and just being surrounded by so many talented athletes,” Thomson said. “It’s really something special.”
With the race underway, Thomson knew he wanted to stay in the lead pack and not sit too far back. “I planned on sitting in that top 6-10 range for the majority of the race and focus on covering any moves that were made.”
He stayed tucked in that front group for the first 20 laps, and with about five laps to go Futsum Zienasellassie of Northern Arizona made a big move that split the race open.
Thomson bided his time, working his way back up into the lead pack slowly over a few laps. With two laps left, he was in contention.
“I always like to do whatever I can to put myself in position to do big things at the end of races and I did just that,” he said.
In the flurry of final kicks, Thomson finished in sixth — 29:13.73 — and earned First Team All-American honors for the first time.
“It was huge for me to get first-team All-American,” he said. After three close attempts — including missing the designation by one second both at cross-country and indoor nationals this school year, Thomson said he was “knocking at the door.”
“It feels great to break through as a sophomore and get that accolade next to my name,” he said. “It feels great to be back in the Bluegrass and performing at my best in front of the people who care the most.”
Thomson said he was pleased by the race — but not satisfied. “No good athlete is ever completely happy with their race, no matter how well it goes.”
But for Thomson, it marks a turning point.
“I’ve always said there are three levels you have to reach before you can be a truly great competitor,” he said. First: believe you can achieve a goal and say you can. Second: have the workouts and training to make your goals realistic.
And last: “You have to do the damn thing on race day.”
Finally, he said, he got the job done.