Sat, May 24: Fourth pains UI''s Zieren

Sat, May 24: Fourth pains UI''s Zieren

   CHAMPAIGN  The difference was merely one spot. Third place last year. Fourth on Friday.

   To Jason Zieren, though, that modest drop in the standings felt like a plummet.

   "There''s a big difference between third and fourth," the University of Illinois distance runner said. "Third gets the plaque, and fourth doesn''t. Fourth gets the pat on the back."

   Clearly, Zieren didn''t find much consolation in the latter following the men''s 10,000-meter race at the Big Ten Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

   Still, that didn''t deter his coach from giving Zieren what he felt was a deserving verbal pat on the back, anyway.

   "I think he gave everything he had," Illini coach Gary Wieneke said after the only men''s final on the first day of the three-day meet. "I''m sure he''s not happy with the place, but he has to be happy with the performance."

   Kind of.

   "I''m not disappointed," Zieren said. "but I''m not ecstatic, either."

   After finishing third in this same race a year ago, Zieren entered Friday''s 10,000 with the No. 3 regular season time in the conference: 29 minutes, 43.50 seconds.

   No one would run that fast this day. The pace was a slow go for much of the race before Michigan''s John Mortimer took off with about 2 miles to go.

   "Most of the guys are running more than one event, so nobody wants to put everything into one race," Mortimer said.

   As it turned out, only Ohio State''s Chris England stayed with Mortimer.

   "I tried to go with them, but I really had no rhythm," Zieren said. "I was tight, so I backed off then and ran with that second pack."

   With two laps to go, Zieren decided he had better break away if he was to at least duplicate his finish of last year. But Michigan''s Steve Lawrence had the same idea, and the duel for third was on.

   Zieren caught and passed Lawrence with about 700 meters to go, but Lawrence did the same to the Illini junior with 300 left.

   "He just blew by me," Zieren said. "I tried to hang on."

   He did, fending off Michigan State''s Jim Jurcevich for fourth place with a 31:07.82 clocking. Jurcevich crossed in 31:08.18.

   Mortimer won in 30:42.43, followed by England (30:48.23) and Lawrence (31:04.05).

   Mortimer could end up putting in some major mileage if his Wolverines remain in the title hunt. Today, he''ll run in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. And on Sunday, the sophomore will line up with, among others, Zieren, for the 5,000 if Michigan needs the points.

   "I''ve got a busy weekend, assuming the rest of the team comes through with some points," Mortimer said.

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