With a record-breaking 9:45.38 Drake Relays steeplechase victory -- in an Olympic A qualifying time -- Team USA Minnesota's Emily Brown converted the breakthrough fitness she's displayed since the start of 2008 into something especially tangible: an impressive mark in an Olympic event.
Brown (pictured), who's previous best in the 3000m steeplechase was 9:56.62 from 2006, is now the U.S. leader in the event for 2008 with a mark that currently ranks her #4 in the world. The new PR, which broke the Drake Relays and Drake Stadium record, is the 6th fastest steeplchase by an American woman ever.
Brown earned the time, and all the Olympic possibilities it entails, in a back-and-forth battle with fellow University of Minnesota alum Rasa (Michinovaite) Troup, who represented Lithuania in the steeple at the 2005 IAAF World Outdoor Championships. The two traded the lead at Drake. Troup finished second in 9:51.28.
"I got out right away and knew that Rasa would be there," Brown, who finished 18th at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships last month in Scotland, said in a Team USA Minnesota media release. "We traded back and forth for first and second. I tried to keep the pace pretty solid and it worked out. Dennis (Barker) wanted me to shoot for 75s per lap but I didn't know where to find any splits. I didn't realize there was a running time clock high on the scoreboard.
"I got out of rhythm a bit and was forced to use my left leg over the hurdles but I got a little smoother after awhile. I usually go with my right leg because it feels more natural. When you get into a race you just take whichever leg comes up first. I could have used either one but I didn't want to shorten or lengthen the stride so I just took whichever leg was there."
At the water pit, Troup pulled ahead on some of the laps but Brown quickly regained contact. "Some people are good water jumpers and I'm not," Brown said. "I am an aggressive runner and I just get over the pit without any faltering."
Brown took the lead for good at 8:03 into the race, and went through the bell for the final lap at 8:35.
"My last two laps I was pretty much pushing," she said. "At 200 meters to go I finally saw the time and then saw that I didn't break 9:45 at the finish. At first I was disappointed because I thought the Olympic "A" standard was 9:45. I was thinking there was no point in doing the race if I didn't get the "A" standard. If I missed it by point four of a second, it would be hard to be happy with it. I learned later that the standard was 9:46 so I was pretty happy."
Winning at Drake, where Brown competed as a collegian, was especially sweet.
"They have the best crowd in track and field," she said. "It is nice to win and go see the crowd and have people rush down to shake my hand. It was fun too that all these little kids wanted to have me sign autographs as I went along the stands on the track."
Brown said she doesn't plan on doing another steeple until the Trials in Eugene "unless Dennis thinks it is a good idea." Next up for her will be the 5000 meters at the Cardinal Invitational on May 4.
"The 5000 started off as a backup race if this weekend went poorly," she said. "Now it is nice that Cardinal will be a no pressure race. It will be kind of like a workout to see where I am at. Even if I do well in the 5000, it is a brand new event for me so I am going to stick with the steeple for the Trials because I am experienced with it."
A Good Meet for Minnesotans ... The Drake Relays was kind to a lot of Minnesota athletes this year. Along with Brown, the state's Drake Relays champions include Ibrahim Kabia in the 100m dash, where the U of M's star edged Clint Allen of Eastern Michigan for the title; both were timed at 10.44. The Gopher women's 4 x 800m relay team of Julie Schwengler, Jamie Cheever, Gabrielle Anderson, and Heather Dorniden defended their 2007 title and set a world-leading mark of 8:32.73 . Gopher Ruby Radocaj won the javelin throw with 179-11.
Minnesota State Mankato's Katelin Rains won the University/College pole vault with a 12-7 1/2 clearance while the Maverick men's sprint medley team of Mike Elliott, Kelvin Rogers, Nate Pieper, and Denise Mokaya won the College division of the event in 3:23.50.
Competing in an exhibition held in conjunction with the University/College women's triple jump, three-time USA triple jump Shani Marks jumped 45-3 3/4. Her training partner Amanda Thieschafer hopped, stepped, and jumped 44-0 1/4.
Full Drake Relays results -- which include Derek Gearman's decathlon debut and Jim Dilling's runner-up high jump performance in a Des Moines shopping mall -- can be found HERE.
Photo by Gene Niemi.