BYU’s Kenneth Rooks upsets one of the top runners in the country to win a national championship in steeplechase

Rooks caps off record-breaking season to deliver BYU men’s track its first individual champ since 2019.

(Sara Diggins | Austin American-Statesman via The Associated Press) BYU's Kenneth Rooks celebrates his win in the steeplechase during the NCAA outdoor track and field championships Friday, June 9, 2023, in Austin, Texas.

Just one month after breaking BYU’s school record in the steeplechase, Kenneth Rooks upset the top steeplechase runner in the country to win a national championship.

Surging in the final minute, Rooks overtook Montana State’s Duncan Hamilton — who previously ran the fastest time in the world this year — to win the title. Rooks clocked in at 8 minutes, 26.17 seconds. Hamilton finished at 8:32.18.

Rooks became the third steeplechase national champion under BYU track and field director Ed Eyestone. Kyle Perry won the event in 2009 and Josh McAdams won it in 2006.

More notably, Rooks won this event in Austin, Texas. When Eyestone was a runner at BYU in 1985, he won his own national championship in Austin.

While Rooks was considered the underdog going into Friday, his win over Hamilton wasn’t a complete surprise. Back in May, when Rooks set the school record, he also recorded what was then the fastest steeplechase time in the world this year — 8:17:62

A few weeks later, Hamilton ran an 8:16:23 to unseat Rooks and become the odds-on favorite to win the title. But the two were viewed as neck-and-neck heading into the race.

“I respect Duncan Hamilton,” Rooks said in a press release. “Him breaking the record got me excited to race against him here at nationals. He’s really good. Thankfully today was my day.”

For Hamilton, this is his second-straight season being the runner-up in the steeplechase. Last year, he lost to Ahmed Jaziri of Eastern Kentucky. Rooks finished sixth last year.

Rooks is the first men’s track athlete to win an individual national championship at BYU since 2019. It caps off a year where he also unseated Olympian Henry Marsh for the BYU school record. Marsh had held the record for 46 years.