Masheto breaks 500-meter collegiate record at weekend invite

By Kevin Olsen

There promise to be more accolades in the near future for reigning Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week Lesiba Masheto. The junior broke the NCAA record in the 500 meters and was named the meet’s top male athlete in a 96-team field at the New Balance Invitational.

While the 500 meters is not an official race for the Big Ten Championships and Nationals, Masheto broke a record set in 1987 in his first time competing in the event. He finished in 1 minute, 0.82 seconds, breaking the previous record of 1:00.84.

“This is a great honor to me,” Masheto said about being named male athlete of the meet. “I wasn’t expecting to break the collegiate record. The only thing on my mind was to break the school record and I ended up beating the collegiate record.”

Head coach Wayne Angel called Masheto’s accomplishment the highlight of the meet.

“It boosted the morale very high and the team fed right off of it like a natural high,” Angel said. “It’s great for the program and it’s great for the University of Illinois.”

Masheto has already provisionally qualified for the 400 meters and ran in the longer event to build up his speed and endurance to lower his times for the Big Ten meet and Nationals. He finished fifth in the indoor Nationals last year and is looking to improve on that position.

“I know it’s going to help me for the 400,” Masheto said. “After running the 500 this weekend and then the 400 next weekend, it will feel like a shorter distance.”

Masheto was not the only one to have a breakout performance. The Illini had numerous top finishes on the first day of the competition and were in seventh place going into Saturday. Jacob Nachel finished first in the 5,000 meters, running an indoor personal best time of 14:29.24.

Illinois competed in a loaded field that featured five top 10 teams, including three top-five teams, headed by No. 1 Tennessee.

“I think we learned a lot, to be able to step up to compete in a tougher competition, and it is preparation for the Big Ten,” Angel said.

Senior Nick Brown finished second in the long jump in a field of 54 jumpers, and then followed that up the next day with a ninth-place finish in the triple jump. Junior Andrew Zollner was also a standout in the field events, finishing second in the pole vault.

The Illini will compete next weekend at Iowa State.

“In terms of what we came for, we accomplished a lot of things,” Angel said. “I think overall from both days, I thought we had a lot of good performances and are moving up in the ranks of the Big Ten in terms of individual performances.”