The Berkeley Prep senior travels to Hungary and brings home an eighth-place finish against the world's best runners.
By SCOTT PURKS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 25, 2001
From Tampa to Chicago to London to Budapest, after two days of riding in planes, trains and automobiles, Rolf Steier suddenly found himself on a track with 10,000 people watching.
It was a preliminary 1,500-meter race at last week's World Junior Track Championships in Hungary.
BANG! He was off.
"It was a little strange and I hadn't slept much," said Steier, a Berkeley Prep senior. "But once I stepped on the track, I felt more comfortable."
Three minutes, 54 seconds later, he crossed the finish line with the 12th-fastest preliminary time, good enough for the last spot in the finals. In the final, "after a relaxing day and a great night of sleep," Steier lined up against some of the world's fastest 18-and-under runners from places such as Europe and Africa. New territory indeed.
He had been in several high profile races before, such as last summer's Junior National Championships, where he qualified for the World Championships.
"But this," Steier said. "Well, I had never been in anything quite like this."
The gun went off and Steier quickly found himself in last place as the leader, a Kenyan, crossed the 400-meter mark in 55 seconds -- a world-record pace.
Steier, whose personal best in the event was the 3:54 he ran two days earlier, passed the 400-meter mark in 58.5, a few seconds faster than what he was used to.
"I wanted to stay in the race but I also knew I couldn't go much faster," he said. "I just had to run my race and hope some of them would come back to me."
They did, and Steier finished eighth in 3:53.62. The leader crossed the tape in 3:36, which would have been seventh at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
"That was amazing," Steier acknowledged. "But as for me, I was real happy with the way everything went. I ran personal-bests and I managed to pace myself better than the rest of the field.
"The whole thing went by so fast. It really was quite an experience."
Steier said he is taking a few weeks off before training starts for the 3-mile races of prep cross country, where he is a two-time defending state champion.
Then in the spring, he hopes to reach his goals of a sub-4:10 mile and a sub-9:10 2 mile, and possibly winning the mile at the national adidas High School Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
He placed ninth at last year's national meet in 4:14.13, but was one of only four underclassmen to crack the top 10.