James West could be a professional middle distance runner by now, settling into his offseason and strategizing for the upcoming Olympic year.
Instead, the fifth-year senior from Kent, England, chose to return to Oregon, compelled by unfinished business both in the classroom and on the track. West, 23, is wrapping up his master’s degree in public administration with the last of his classes this term, followed by an internship in the winter.
Come the outdoor season, he’ll be done with school and able to focus on track and getting redemption for how his 2019 NCAA season ended when he was shockingly disqualified for a false start in his 1,500-meter heat during the West Preliminary meet in Sacramento.
“Going pro was appealing, especially in an Olympic year,” West said. “But the opportunity to perform here for another year is better for me. And after what happened at NCAA outdoor regionals last year, I was really excited about the opportunity to get that right and put that DQ to bed.”
But before track season starts, West and the bulk of the Ducks’ distance squad are getting into the heart of the cross country season.
Friday, the No. 7 Oregon men and No. 14 Oregon women will be in Madison, Wis., at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, a large meet that will include 16 men’s teams and 13 women’s teams who are ranked in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association top 25.
That includes the two top-ranked teams in the Northern Arizona men and Arkansas women, as well as the No. 25 Oregon State women.
The women’s 6,000-meter race on the Thomas Zimmer Championship course will start at 10:20 a.m. The men’s 8,000 race is scheduled to start at 11 a.m.
“We have the depth and we’re really excited to give this weekend a go because this is the first time we get to compete against some of those top teams,” West said. “I mean, BYU was good at Dellinger, but we want to have a go at NAU. For me, they’re the team to beat.”
The Ducks are coming off a team win at the Bill Dellinger Invitational on Sept. 28, when they topped a handful of ranked teams including the No. 2 Cougars.
West was Oregon’s top finisher that day, placing third in the 8,000-meter race to lead the Ducks’ 54-point performance. Junior Cooper Teare (fourth) and freshman Cole Hocker (ninth) also finished inside the top 10.
“We were very happy with the performance and it gave us a huge amount of confidence going into this race and the rest of the season,” West said. “But I don’t think we were majorly surprised by what we did. It was something that was a long time coming.”
Not for West, who had an impressive 2018 cross country season that started with a win at the Oregon XC Preview and included a 17th-place finish at the Wisconsin Pre-Nationals meet and a scoring performance at the NCAA championships when the distance increases to 10,000 meters, making the final two miles a grueling stretch for a middle distance runner.
“I’m a competitive guy,” West said. “So the same expectations of what I want to do on the track, I want to reach the same level in cross country even if it’s not my strongest suit.”
West had his resiliency put to the test last outdoor season when he was booted from the second round of the 1,500 for a false start, keeping him out of the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship meet and ending his collegiate season.
Though false starts in distance races aren’t common, they also don’t usually lead to a DQ. The night before, there was a false start in a 5,000 heat that didn’t result in a DQ.
“It was a really strange one,” West said. “I didn’t even know you could get a DQ from a distance race. … when (the starter) pulled out the red card, I was really shocked by that.”
West followed that disappointment with the best summer of running he's ever had.
Two weeks after his DQ, West ran a season-best time of 3 minutes, 37.22 seconds at the Portland Track Festival. Six days later, he topped that with a personal-record of 3:35.22 at the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle, achieving the qualifying standard for the IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
He ran another 3:37 on July 9 and then on Aug. 25 was fifth in the British Championships, missing out on a trip to Doha, Qatar.
“Coach (Ben Thomas) kind of got me in the right frame of mind to give Portland a go and I ran a 3:37 and I thought ‘Wow, I’m in shape so let’s just carry on,’” West said. “I wouldn’t have run that time if I had gone to the NCAA championships I think. That’s running, isn’t it? One door closes, another opportunity opens.”
Follow Chris Hansen on Twitter @chansen_RG or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.