One thing Lananna docs not have is foreign runners, who for years have been a bone of contention at this meet. Foreign runners usually dominate the top 10 places, and some coaches question using scholarship money to develop foreign talent, instead of homegrown runners. The Texas-El Paso team of 1981, which set an incomprehensible NCAA championship team record of 17 points (placing 1-2-3-5-6), was made up entirely of Africans.
While there's still some foreign domination—Adam Goucher of Colorado was the first U.S.-born finisher this year, in fourth place—Lananna has assembled his juggernaut without using a single foreigner, though he insists it's a practice based more on habit than on principle. "We can get the best American kids, so I don't feel the need to go out and get international kids. I couldn't give scholarships at Dartmouth," he says, noting that he did not heavily recruit foreign athletes there because he was unable to entice them without athletic scholarship money. "If you don't do something for 12 years, you get used to not doing it."
It doesn't look as if Lananna's American pipeline is going to dry up soon. Last spring he scored a middle-distance running coup. Since the heady days of the mid-'60s, when Jim Ryun, Tim Danielson and Marty Liquori all broke the four-minute barrier, high school miling has been in decline. Only in the last two years has there been a renaissance, and Lananna grabbed three of the top four guys: 4:02 miler Gabe Jennings and 3:43 1,500-meter runner Jonathon Riley are Stanford freshmen, while Stember, who ran a 4:04 mile as a high school junior, is a sophomore.
It's a challenge to control all that raging ambition. To help his runners bond, Lananna took the team to a two-week altitude training camp in the Sierra Nevada, east of Palo Alto, Calif. They stayed in ski condos, cooked for one another and tried to articulate "the Stanford model," which means something like emphasizing process over final result. "We couldn't pin it down," admits Lananna, "so we just called it magic."
They also did a lot of running, not all of it clothed. One team tradition is the Freedom Run, a romp au naturel, and on this occasion the men startled some campers. "We're not supposed to talk about it," says Stember. "But somebody—a freshman—told Track & Field News, so what can you do? We have a lot of traditions, things that are confidential. It adds to the camaraderie."
That camaraderie, plus tremendous patience, paid off in Greenville. By the end of the first mile most of the Razorbacks had slipped back through the pack. Seneca Lassiter, the national 1,500-meter champion from Arkansas, ran the final miles with the glazed eyes of someone who was no longer racing but hanging on. He finished 78th.
Still, by the five-mile mark, where the course began a steady climb around a pitted, stubbly field, the top five Razorbacks had regrouped, and by Lananna's count they led the Cardinal 60-79. "I had Jonathon Riley, our fifth man, in 29th, and Jason Lunn in 39th," said Lananna later. "I told Jason that if he passed the Arkansas guy, we'd win. I didn't know that for sure, but it worked."
Running that last mile like the milers they are, Riley picked off six runners and Lunn 10. Because of the complications of scoring a meet with both individual and team contenders, it took 30 minutes to determine which team had won.
As officials reviewed the finish-line videotape and computed the results, the individual winner held court. Mebrahtom (Meb) Keflezighi, the diminutive 22-year-old UCLA senior who last spring became the first man in 12 years to win both the NCAA 5,000 and 10,000 titles, had run the last two miles alone, the top of his head rarely peeping into view over the spectators' heads. Keflezighi is a foreign-born runner whom nearly everyone is happy to have in the NCAAs. His family fled the civil strife in Eritrea when he was 10, and he graduated from high school in San Diego. He reached the finish in 28:54, breaking the 16-year-old course record by six seconds.
When word came that Stanford had beaten Arkansas, Keflezighi broke into a wide grin. "I am happy for the Pac-10," he explained. "I root for the other runners, just as I am rooting for Amy now."