SAULT STE. MARIE -- Senior runner Steve Eles is quietly bringing notoriety to Lake Superior State University by excelling in an event that is much more familiar to Canadians than to Americans -- and it's not hockey.
Eles, a Sudbury, Ont., native who transferred to LSSU from the College of Charleston to escape the southern heat four years ago, is ranked eighth in NCAA Division II in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 9:11.71. His goal is to finish in the top eight at the NCAA II Championships May 22-24 in Edwardsville, Ill., in order to earn All-America status. He maintained his mileage through last week and easily won the GLIAC Championship in 9:25:98. He recently started a three-week taper, which will help him peak at nationals.
Eles usually runs 80-85 miles per week, cuts his mileage to 60-70 miles during the outdoor track season and significantly increases his rest time prior to big meets. He will also compete in the Canadian Nationals and Pan-Am Trials in July, since is ranked fourth in the steeplechase in Canada.
"I maintained my volume during the week of the GLIAC Championships because I was ranked so high and Drew wasn't concerned," said Eles, who competed in the 1,500-meter run at last week's University of Michigan meet in order to get in 'a little speed work.' He became the first Laker to run a sub-4:00 metric mile, finishing in a school record 3:59.96.
The steeplechase is a tactical distance event that includes 35 barriers, including seven with water. The water jumps make the race popular among spectators.
"Most people find that exciting -- I guess it's because of the potential for falling," said Eles, who competed in the 2,000-meter steeplechase as a high school athlete. "Sometimes you'll see 50 to 100 people surround the water pit. You don't want to see anyone fall, but I think the spectators kind of enjoy it. I've only fallen once."
While indoors, Eles practices his jumps by using three-foot hurdles for the barriers and jumping into a sand pit instead of water.
Eles has enjoyed a successful cross country and track career at LSSU. He broke the school record in the steeplechase in his first race ever. Last year he qualified provisionally for nationals and was ranked 20th, but wasn't able to go. Only the top 16 advanced.
Eles and senior Jeff Thuss, a Grand Bend, Ont., native who also came in with steeplechase experience, have helped the Lakers build a GLIAC dynasty in their specialty. Eles, freshman Andy Cojeen (of Essexville, Mich.) and Thuss finished first, third and sixth at the GLIAC Championships.
"Jeff is from Ontario, too, and he ran steeples in high school," Eles said. "Andy's in his first year and he's looking pretty good in it. He has a lot of leg speed and can jump pretty well. You have to be a middle distance runner for sure and need to be able to jump, although they say that you have to be able to run between the barrers. Most steeple chasers are decent milers as well, so you have to have good leg speed."
Eles will focus on placing in a certain position, not running a fast time during the preliminary race at nationals. If he reaches the finals, then he knows he will have to run a hard race from start to finish. His goal is a 9:09.
"Our goal is to finish in the top eight, but he will have to make it out of the prelims," said LSSU track coach Drew Ludtke, who trains with Eles. "His training will focus on getting out of prelims, but still racing well in the finals."
Eles has experience in high-level competition.
"I competed in the Canadian Senior Nationals in Edmonton, and that was nerve-wracking," he said, recalling a television camera in his face when he was ushered into the stadium. "I was in position four, and the guy in position three was an eight-time Canadian national champion. That's why the cameras were there. That was the most nervous I had ever been before a race."
Eles finished eighth in that race.
Web Site Editor Note: Steve Eles has placed first three times in the Great Lakes runs in Sault, Ontario. First in the 5K in 2001 and 2002 and first in the 10K in 2000.