NBNI: Malone and Nye ascend to ultra-elite status, halt Cheserek's runaway reign

Ben Malone and Brad Nye announced their arrival as national middle-distance greats at NBNI Sunday. John Nepolitan/ESPNHS

NBNI Index

NEW YORK -- Now everyone else in the country knows what the East Coast already knew: New Jersey yet again appears to be harboring America's next great mid-distance phenom.

Now everyone else outside the Rocky Mountain Region might finally believe what the locals already knew: Utah's greatest distance runner truly is among the premier distance runners in America -- and now the only prep this year to pin a defeat on the once-invincible Edward Cheserek.

And now Cheserek knows what the rest of the nation is quickly learning: In this current wave of unrivaled, improving and far-reaching national distance excellence, no one stays on top by reputation alone.

By the end of the New Balance Nationals Indoor weekend, Cheserek went from being the nation's unbeatable aerobic freak to one who'd tasted rare defeat at the hands of a newfound rival in one distance event, and was somewhat overshadowed by another rival's performance across a second distance challenge.

New Jersey's Ben Malone and Utah's Brad Nye each came off the pace to close with a flourish in their respective races, highlighting a pair of personal breakthroughs worthy of national titles and stamping each as newfound all-time greats in the distance wars.

Malone's final-lap slingshot in the 800-meter challenge carried him to a junior class national record and the second-fastest time in U.S. prep indoor history. The triumph capped a memorable winter season which saw the Pascack Valley star go from among the nation's top dozen metric half mile talents for the upcoming outdoor campaign to the one now squarely at the top of the list.

Despite not beating Cheserek head-on (whose only 800-meter foray of the weekend came Saturday via a 1:51.2 split in anchoring his team's winning sprint medley relay), Malone became the indoor king of that event with a blistering 1:49.91 performance that left him trailing only in-state 800 legend Robby Andrews (1:49.21 in 2009) in all-time U.S. prep annals.

Then it was Nye's turn during a David-vs.-Goliath showdown (despite being the underdog, Nye's 6-foot, 4-inch frame classified him as the Goliath against the 5-foot-6, 127-pound Cheserek), which saw the Davis (Kaysville, Utah) senior gallop home in a wholly impressive 4:08.67 clocking to seal his first U.S. title and startle the soft-spoken Cheserek in the process.

"I still can't believe it," Nye quipped minutes after turning the national prep distance scene upside down with the boys’ upset of the meet headliner. "The race played out perfectly and when the chance to win was there, I took it."

The same could be said for Malone, who'd already been this winter's national leader across 1000 meters and ranked as a talent across 600 meters as well. But this was only Malone's second undertaking of the season across 800, his previous outing being a get-out-the-kinks 1:55 cruiser several weeks before. He had, however, run a 1:51 split in an early-season relay.

Flashing fresh legs and a newfound confidence in his range, Malone reeled in early leader Ned Willig of Great Valley (Malvern, Pa.) down the stretch and kept hard-charging Liverpool (Liverpool, N.Y.) senior Zavon Watkins at bay to wrap up the title.

"I'm in shock (at the winning time)," said Malone after the awards presentation. "It's an incredible close to the season. It all came together perfectly for me."

That would be an understatement, especially after owning an outdoor best of 1:52.17 from sophomore year. Malone credited an overhaul of his racing and training schedule as keying his breakthroughs of 2012.

But the spry teenager wasn't busy loading up on races and tougher workouts to fuel his progress -- he was peeling those items off the schedule instead.

"Just less racing and less hard-speed workouts," he explained. "The 800 is a pretty tough event as it is… it takes a lot out of you. Once I started doing a little less of all the hard stuff, my legs felt great on race day. That's been the biggest difference."

For Nye, another year of strength, another season of experience, and even more opportunity to race has helped the likable giant to further spread his wings in evolving as a mega-talent.

Despite posting the nation-leading time at 1600 meters early this season, then ripping an impressive mile win at the Simplot Games in mid-February, the rest of the nation refused to take notice of Nye's performances, largely because the national leader lists only rank the raw performance times, not taking into account performances occurring at altitude.

With oxygen-depleted air at higher elevations -- as commonly found in Utah and the adjoining Rocky Mountain states -- aerobic-based events such as the distances are at a distinct disadvantage. Over the years, a myriad of altitude-conversion tables have been devised, with some of the more recent ones seemingly missing the mark on the time adjustments as compared to those compiled by earlier research. In any case, Nye's 4:12.39 performance at Simplot was worth something in the vicinity of 4:08-low at sea level elevations coming in.

So while Nye's 4:08.67 winning time caught most off guard in being nearly a five-second lifetime improvement from his personal best, the conversion tables certainly foretold it.

The only questions remaining were how the BYU-signed talent would handle facing the "big" names on a national stage and if his imposing frame would find enough liberal space with which to operate on the Armory's 200-meter oval.

But once the early pace went out conservative -- with the leaders coming across at 2:06-low through the half mile -- the patient and obviously poised Nye was licking his chops despite stalking all others from the very back of the pack.

With two laps to go, the Davis star began making passes, ultimately slotting into a top-four position as the last lap took flight. Soon, Nye's strength became the difference, powering into an aggressive rhythm as he began quickly shearing away the deficit.

According to a member of the ESPNHS staff, Davis coach Corbin Talley watched from the backstretch railing and blurted out, "My guy's going to win!" as the gathered pro-Cheserek crowd nearby looked at him in amused disbelief.

But seconds later, Nye indeed powered off the final curve to swallow up a withering Cheserek -- who was wrapping up his fourth event in 43 hours and his second (including the two-mile) within a 75-minute span.

"I knew about Jacob (Burcham of West Virginia)," said Cheserek, who then conceded, "I did not know anything about the big guy. He surprised me."

Although "The Big Guy" shared a sense of partial surprise with the final outcome, it paled in comparison to the shock such notions of an upset would have raised earlier in his career. Nye had faced Cheserek only once before, and that was in cross-country at the Nike Cross Nationals championship in 2010.

"We were in the same race, but I never really even saw him back then," Nye admitted. "He was that far ahead of me."

Since then -- thanks to plenty of exciting action in recent hours -- Nye and Malone are no longer trailers on the national scene. They are the new leaders.

Are we ready for outdoors, everyone?