UNM freshman Habtom Samuel takes sixth in 5,000-meter final in NCAA championships

Jun. 7—Habtom Samuel's push for double gold fell just short.

New Mexico's freshman phenom took sixth place in the men's 5,000 meter final, running a 13:58.83 on Friday night at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

North Carolina's Parker Wolfe (13:54.43) bested indoor 5,000 collegiate record holder and Nico Young (13:54.65) in a final-lap duel to win his first NCAA title. Northern Arizona's Young finished a close second while Stanford's Ky Robinson (13:55.00) took third, Oklahoma State's Brian Musau (13:57.42) fourth and Harvard's Graham Blanks (13:57.81) fifth.

Coming off his dramatic win in the 10,000 final on Wednesday — UNM's first individual NCAA title since 2019 — Samuel pushed the pace for an early lead in the 5,000, only to slide off the front as the race slowed.

Samuel appeared to be in position to make a move on the outside with less than three laps to go — only for Blanks to charge ahead, setting a ferocious pace for the top five with Samuel lagging behind as a distant sixth. Young and Wolfe emerged down the stretch, the latter taking home his first individual title with a staggering 54.8-second final lap.

Samuel's final run concludes one of the finest seasons in program history, featuring an NCAA title, four program records, two conference records and All-America marks in four different events.

A native of Keren, Eritrea, Samuel took up running in place of soccer and found success early, eventually earning recognition from college coaches with a 17th-place finish at the World Cross Country Championships in 2020. Former UNM track and field head coach Joe Franklin was one of them, selling Samuel on the program's facilities and opportunity to train at elevation for a commitment that held when first-year head coach Darren Gauson was hired in Franklin's place.

Despite nearly an eight-month break from competition, Samuel debuted with a bang, running a 23:36.4 8K to win the Roy Griak Invitational in September for his first of many wins as a Lobo.

"He's surprised me a little bit," Gauson told the Journal in January, "but he is a mega talent. Really had an amazing pedigree before, so anything he does now is probably not going to surprise him."

Samuel's profile continued to rise through the fall, earning Mountain West Men's Cross Country Athlete of the Year Honors after leading UNM to it's first men's conference title since 2014. He ended his first cross country season with the Lobos by running a 28:40.7 for a runner-up finish at the NCAA Division I Championships, the best placement for a Lobo runner since 2004.

Samuel's first season on the track with UNM saw him rewrite the record books early and often, running new conference and program bests in the indoor 3,000 (7:45.81) and 5,000 (13:14.85). He even ran the fastest collegiate mile (3:59.12) in Albuquerque Convention Center history at the Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational in January — a race he said was his first-ever competitive mile at any level.

Samuel claimed Mountain West titles in the indoor and outdoor 5,000 before winning his first NCAA title in the 10,000, surviving a late fall to win the Lobos' first men's individual title since Josh Kerr won the 1,500 final in 2017.