Latter-day Saint Kenneth Rooks falls but storms back to win steeplechase national championship

The BYU junior became a popular topic on social media after winning the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships

The first time the television announcers mentioned Kenneth Rooks’ name was when he fell more than two laps into the 3,000-meter race.

The Latter-day Saint from Brigham Young University made sure it wasn’t the last.

Rooks not only recovered to rejoin the pack, he stunned everyone by pulling ahead in the final stretch to win the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday, July 8.

“Wow, what a story this is!” said Lee Diffey, the NBC announcer. “From falling to the finish and a national championship. What a story!” 

Despite the fall, Rooks recorded the fastest time of his three-year steeplechase career, 8:16.78. The victory comes one month after the returned missionary from Walla Walla, Washington, finished his junior season by winning the NCAA championships.

Rooks previously served a full-time mission in Uganda and Orem, Utah, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His goal was to be competitive in the race, no matter what.

“I wanted to make sure I left it out on the track today, whether I had the success I had today or I didn’t,” Rooks told reporters after the race.

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What makes his triumph even more impressive is that Rooks did it against professionals in the event, including Benard Keter (Nike/U.S. Army), Isaac Updike (Under Armour/Dark Sky Dist.), Mason Ferlic (Adidas) and Anthony Rotich (Nike/U.S. Army).

Speaking to NBC afterward, Rooks said falling was a scenario he contemplated — “What would I do if I fell?” If that happened, his strategy was to gradually work his way back to the pack and do his best to make a move at the end. 

Ed Eyestone, BYU’s director of track and field, said when Rooks made the NCAA final as a freshman, they had a running joke called the legend of Kenneth Rooks. The coach didn’t know if his runner could top this performance unless he makes the world championship final.

“He’s got a good chance to do that — if he stays on his feet,” Eyestone said, per the Deseret News. “That was a testament of patience. That was like [the movie] ‘Chariots of Fire,’ where the guy falls and wins and you think, ‘OK, that’s a little too much.’ It was Hollywood.”

The top three finishers in each event will represent the U.S. in the world championships in Budapest next month. No American steeplechaser has met the world championships qualifying mark of 8:15.00, but Eyestone said Rooks is a virtual lock to be accepted into the competition.

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Following Rooks’ victory, he became a popular topic on social media.

Robert Griffin III, a former NFL player and media personality, tweeted: “Kenneth Rooks fell down in 3000m Steeplechase. But he didn’t quit. He got back up, was back 30 meters from the pack and came back to win the race and a US Championship. Are you kidding me?!!? Who said distance races aren’t entertaining?!?! Remarkable!”

Jeremiah Jensen of KSL TV tweeted: “Are you looking for some inspiration this weekend? Watch BYU’s Kenneth Rooks fall down in the 3000m steeplechase, get back up, never give up and come from behind to win the national championship against pro runners.”

Jarom Jordan of BYU Sports Nation tweeted: “What Kenneth Rooks did tonight is one of the greatest individual accomplishments in BYU sports history.”

Former BYU basketball great and NBA executive Danny Ainge tweeted that Rooks’ feat was “incredible.”

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