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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Cross country running is not Dumisane Hlaselo’s typical style of race. But the South African track star still competes in it for the Gators for one reason: to make his country’s Olympic team.

Hlaselo’s record-breaking 1,500-meter time of 33:38.15 in 2008 is still good enough for fourth-best among his country’s track runners this year. But even though his track marks are described by UF cross country coach Todd Morgan as “tremendous,” he needs cross country in his progression as an athlete.

“You come into cross country because it makes you stronger and more developed aerobically,” Morgan said. “That’s what cross country is for and he understands that. He’s bought in right from day one.”

As UF’s cross country teams compete against 34 other ranked teams during Saturday’s Pre-NCAA Invitational, however, Hlaselo will be pushing himself in a style of racing he is not accustomed to.

Hlaselo’s seventh-place finish at the Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 2, was his first time competing in a race where he had to run farther than 5K. The junior responded well, being the first Gators men’s runner to finish, but Morgan said Hlaselo's experience in cross country is still somewhat limited.

“For my side, I didn’t expect it that much,” Hlaselo said. “But the training I’ve had has been making me run so well. And coach as well as all the encouragement from the team and all my teammates has helped.”

If the Gators can get a good run out of “Dumi,” as Hlaselo is called by his team, it can go a long way to helping the No. 30 men’s team get a bid to the NCAA Championship meet in November for the first time since 2006, Morgan said.

“You know he’s going to be running against some tremendous guys this weekend,” Morgan said. “And guys that are really good 10,000-meter type runners, which would, on paper, give them a little bit more of an advantage over him, but he’s good. He’ll be up at the front again definitely.”

While the men’s team will be traveling to Terre Haute, Ind., with its full compliment of seven runners, the No. 27 women’s team will be short-handed after Morgan decided to keep All-American junior Rebecca Lowe out until the Southeastern Conference Championships in two weeks.

One of the six runners that will make the trip is highly-touted freshman Shelby Hayes, who will be competing in her first event of the year. Hayes said that while foot and hip injuries have kept her on the sidelines this season, she will start conservatively and try to get into the rhythm of the race.

Even though the women’s team’s recent performances have caused it to slide down 19 spots in the rankings since the first week of the season, Hayes assured that the team is only being held back by injuries and personnel problems.

“We know we’re going to come on late with some early season injuries and people who are going to be back towards the latter end of the season,” Hayes said. “So we kind of use it as a motivating factor to prove ourselves.”

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