Land O'Lakes' Steven Bell won't split his focus much at state, running only the 1,600 and 3,200.
By IZZY GOULD
Published May 5, 2006
LAND O'LAKES - Steven Bell finished his eighth warmup lap with as much energy as the start. Then he walked toward his teammates with a straight face.
There was no gasp for air and no panicked scramble for a water bottle.
Two miles could have been two steps for the Land O'Lakes senior. That's what happens when you are at the top of your sport.
"I don't even know how many different things I've picked up on with my training and how I race," Bell said. "I know I realize distance running requires patience. It doesn't happen overnight. I'm finally where I want to be and it's been six years."
That last comment will be more telling if Bell claims a state title in today's Class 3A meet in Winter Park. He'll have two chances, competing in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
And if Bell is as strong and confident as he was taking two first-place ribbons at the region meet, he'll probably come home with two winning medals swinging from his neck.
Bell is the favorite in both events and holds the state's top time in the 3,200 (9:10.04), according to flrunners.com.
Building himself into one of the state's best distance runners was not easy. His career was littered with injury, failure, perseverance and triumph.
Regardless of today's outcome, Bell has the admiration and respect of coach Al Claggett.
"I've coached several great high school athletes," said Claggett, who is completing his 29th season as coach. "He's right at the top of that list. One of the things I'm proudest of is coaching guys like Steven Bell."
Claggett wants nothing more than for Bell to walk away with two state titles.
No Gator has won one during his watch. The closest was pole vaulter Jamie Cox, who finished third at state in the mid 1990s.
So Claggett decided to help Bell with implementing a less-is-more approach. Claggett pulled Bell from the 800 at districts and moved him into the 4x800. Pulling Bell allowed Tommy Spock a chance to win the event.
Then Claggett went a step further at regionals, pulling Bell from the 4x800 and limiting him to two events. Bell had helped the relay team win a district title, but Claggett felt limiting him to two events was a better personal strategy.
Bell entered last year's state meet seeded third in the 1,600 (4:20.09) and finished 10th (4:27.53). He was seeded sixth in the 3,200 (9:39.60), also finishing 10th (9:42.04).
"I think (running the 4x800) took just enough out of him to keep him from winning the 1,600-meter race," Claggett said. "And I think he faded in the 3,200 for that reason. Steven hasn't lost a race all year. If he would have run (the 4x800) they would have qualified for state."
If you think Bell is preoccupied with thoughts of past performances or the burden of being the top seed in two events, he's not. There was more tension a few hundred yards away at spring football practice than in Bell's eyes.
Winning a state title became an attainable goal after former Mitchell star Jeff Masterson won one in the 3,200 in 2004. The belief was reaffirmed after Zephyrhills senior Bryan Thomas claimed the Class 2A long jump title last week.
But none of those thoughts came across in conversation.
What's on Bell's mind?
"Not much," Bell said. "I'm just trying to look at it as just another week. I don't want to get too much pressure built up. ... Day of I'll probably have a little bit of nerves on me. I'm not worrying about it too much.