Bizzarri wins national championship in 5,000-meter race

With 100 meters to go, there was little doubt that Angela Bizzarri would win her first national title in the 5,000 meters.

As she crossed the finish line in 16 minutes, 17.94 seconds — a time 8.64 seconds faster than the runner-up — the Illinois women’s track and field junior cemented her spot as Illinois’ greatest distance runner of all time in Fayetteville, Ark., during the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Bizzarri surprised even herself by just how far ahead of the pack she finished, saying that she “expected someone to be very close the whole time.”

The first Illinois women’s track and field national champion since Perdita Felicien in 2003, and Illinois’ only national-title winner in a non-hurdling event, Bizzarri overcame not only the competition, but some adverse weather conditions.

The preliminary round of the 5k on Wednesday was run well after midnight due to a rain delay of more than three hours.

“It was kind of frustrating … because you’re kind of waiting,” Bizzarri said. “I think it was just frustrating not knowing what was going to happen.”

The finals experienced a rain-delay as well. However, the weather was not a factor for Bizzarri, who pulled out her seventh All-America honor between track and cross country.

“She overall handled it really well, and it’s nice to be able to know that your athlete has a level head,” distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen said.

Bizzarri was not Illinois’ only All-American, as junior Aja Evans and senior Deserea Brown each achieved the honor, placing fifth in the shot put (53 feet, 11.25 inches) and fifth in the 400-meter hurdles (57.31), respectively. As a team, Illinois tied for 12th with 18 points.

While the NCAA track and field season has come to a close, for many athletes, the track season itself has not.

It is expected that all three Illini All-Americans will compete at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in two weeks, and other Illini are set to compete at the Canadian Track & Field Championships.

Although the track season continues, for head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, there is a definite sense of relief with the conclusion of her first season as a collegiate head coach.

“I’m relieved, I’m happy about everything,” Buford-Bailey said. “I felt like I had a successful first year as a head coach, and hopefully I can continue to do, you know, this well or even better.

“I always have high goals and expectations for myself because I was a high-level athlete myself. So for me, you know, it’s just a matter of trying to continue to reach higher and higher.”