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Steeplechase competitor jumps in with both feet

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- Brooke Bastien didn't know exactly what she was getting into, especially when she plowed over the 30-inch-high barrier and splashed like a beach-storming GI into the water pit at Mike Long Track.

The former Central star couldn't ask any of her Florida State teammates for help either. They were just as clueless about this beast called the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Females never had officially run the event before this year, and the 21 participants in the Florida State Relays comprised, to that point, the largest field of women to contest it.

"It was very scary," said Bastien, who fell in the water pit. "We didn't really know what to expect at first, and that pit was one of my fears. But I'm getting better at it, though."

Bastien won that race March 24 in 11 minutes and 67-one-hundredths of a second. At the time, the mark was the nation's seventh best, and it was enough to qualify her for the first NCAA championships in the event.

Bastien's time has since been bumped back into the best 30 or so, but the junior has a second and final chance to qualify tonight at 7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championships at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

"She has a good shot to qualify, and this would be only her second one in a real 3,000-meter race," Seminoles coach Terry Long said. "We're excited about that. The competition in the conference is very good. Four in the ACC are in the top 30, so she'll get a great chance to run fast with that competition."

Long estimates Bastien will need to finish in roughly 10:35-10:40 to qualify. She has been running a 10:30 pace in 2,000-meter steeplechases in practice, he said.

With her specialty 5,000 meters event on her slate Saturday, Bastien is taking anything she does in the steeplechase as a bonus. "If I don't make it, I won't be devastated," she said.

Florida State was one of the first colleges to host a women's steeplechase, and it was quite a novelty at the March 17 Snowbird Invitational.

"Two hundred people were crowded around the water pit," Long said. "It was like a car wreck -- hilarious. People were yelling and chanting as they tried to negotiate the water.

"It was a real attraction because this hadn't been a women's event and some people thought they couldn't do it, which was garbage," he said. "It won't be long before women are jumping all over this."

The steeplechase requires a certain type of mentality. Competitors face five jumps per lap, 80 meters apart, and have to develop different strategies from other running events.

"When you hit one of those things, it doesn't move," Long said of the barriers. "You hit it, you're going down. It takes fearlessness, aggression, endurance."

Check, check and check. After struggling through a hip injury at the end of the 1999 cross country season, her first at Florida State, Bastien excelled this fall. She earned All-South Region honors with a 13th-place performance in that meet and finished 14th in the ACC Championships, making history with a 49-spot improvement.

Last spring, she posted FSU's second-best time in the 1,500-meters before nailing season-best marks in the 5,000 and 3,000. She cut more than two minutes off her 5,000 time, down to 17:16.

"Brooke is one of those where the higher the expectations, the more she responds," Long said. "From the kind of improvement she made from cross country to track and field, she was a good candidate to try a new event."

Bastien wasn't exactly looking for something else to occupy her time when Seminoles assistant coach Jody Spangler, a former state champion two-miler at Hernando,began pacing the women's team through basic steeplechase drills in November.

"It was something different," Bastien said. "Not just running around the track. You have stuff to think about, which makes it more fun."

Fun, but -- although she's an unwitting pioneer -- pressure-free, she said.

"Because it's so new for us, and it's something none of us have ever done, the pressure is off," Bastien said. "We really had no no expectations coming in. We just kind of go out and do it. But it would be nice to be one of the first, though."

Brooke Bastien

HOMETOWN: Brooksville.

HIGH SCHOOL: Central.

COLLEGE: Florida State.

YEAR: Junior.

MAJOR: English education.

RESUME: A junior in her second year at FSU after transferring from Jacksonville University. Named cross country "Golden 'Nole" winner last week for excellence in athletics, leadership. Made biggest improvement in Atlantic Coast Conference cross country meet history, going from 63rd to 14th this year. Set seventh-best time in nation in steeplechase (11:00.67) earlier this season. At Central, was the runner-up in 3,200 meters as a junior and senior and fourth in the Florida mile her senior year.

UP NEXT: She competes in the first ACC championships 3,000-meter steeplechase tonight at 7 and in the 5,000 meters Saturday at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, attempting to qualify for NCAA championship.

RACE RESULTS, INFORMATION: Log on to http://www.flashresults.com. -- BRANT JAMES

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