David Hunter writes on one of the key players in the steeplechase, Donn Cabral, who should battle in the final with Evan Jager in the final. Hunter, a Princeton grad, is quite happy that Princeton has some tough distance runners, which makes his feature on Donn Cabral that more special!
A Daily Journal From The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials / Track & Field
Highlights From Hayward
By Dave Hunter
June 24, 2012
Hollywood would likely reject a proposed movie script based upon the 2012 track and field accomplishments of Donn Cabral. Too fantastic, not credible. But as dream-like as Cabral’s outdoor ride has been this spring, this much is true: it really did all happen that way.
Hard-core track and field fans know about Cabral. Prior to this outdoor season, the book on the Princeton distance ace pegged him as a very good – but not an overly-spectacular – talent: multi-time All-American; two-time NCAA runner-up in the steeplechase; and a leading East Coast collegiate distance runner.
But you can throw that book away. Cabral’s magical spring has changed all that. In April, Cabral led his Princeton distance corps back to the Penn Relay Carnival where his scintillating anchor legs allowed the Tigers to win the distance medley relay and to successfully defend its 4 x mile crown – the first time such dual distance wins had been accomplished at Penn by a single school in 51 years ago. Add Cabral’s Penn steeple win as a sophomore to those three relay titles and you realize that Cabral has four Penn Relays watches. He has never lost at the Penn Relays. Ivy League runners aren’t supposed to be able to do that.
As the spring rolled on, Cabral successfully defended his Heps titles in the 10,000 and the steeplechase – his specialty. But his big breakthrough came shortly thereafter at the Oxy High Performance Meet in California. Running as the only collegian in a stacked steeplechase field of post-collegiate professionals eager to notch the “A” standard [8:23.1], Cabral displayed a race poise that belied his novice status. Laying off the early jostling and running his own race, Cabral hung back, moved hard over the final three laps, and then uncorked a powerful kick over the final 200 meters to upset Dan Huling and Evan Jager. Cabral’s winning “A” standard time of 8:19.14 took down the 28-year old American collegiate record and still stands as this year’s leading American mark. But there’s more: several weeks ago, Cabral capped off an exceptional college career by capturing the NCAA Div I steeplechase crown.
It has been a frenetic 2Â½ months for Cabral as he has gone through a whirlwind transformation from good collegiate distance runner into a leading contender to make the United States Olympic Team in the steeplechase.
Cabral is quick to acknowledge that his successes this spring are due, in large measure, to the careful guidance and training provided by Tiger distance coach Steve Dolan. “Coach Dolan is a really great coach. He has helped me to make the moves that will help me to be there at the end; to keep things in focus and in perspective; and to be sure I get the work in for the build-up that I need,” says Cabral. “He [Dolan] wants me to enjoy this chance while not having to face anything that would distract me before the Olympic Trials.”
As the steeplechase rounds approach, the real question isn’t whether or not Cabral has the demonstrated skills to make the Olympic team. It is whether or not he has any gas left in the tank. Cabral makes it clear that this happy turn of events was a possibility that was contemplated when he and Dolan constructed a training/racing plan 9 months ago. “Last fall, Coach Dolan set up the training plans that allowed for a possible later season than usual. The plan included a lot miles in the fall and in the winter. A lot of the sharper stuff that we normally do late winter or early spring we pushed back into April,” says Cabral. “We started to chart a new path to reach a whole new level; which required a really hard block – a couple weeks of hard training – during the spring. It has been a series of incredible phases I have gone through.”
Cabral believes he has side-stepped the common downfall that plagues many collegiate distance aspirants at this time of year – the inevitable staleness that accompanies an extenuated racing season. The fact is that Dolan’s scheduling has had Cabral racing selectively and sparingly during the winter and early spring, which likely explains Cabral’s observation that his legs “feel fresh.”
And so Cabral moves into uncharted waters. If, as expected, he can move on to Thursday’s final, Cabral is ready for any pacing eventuality the final might bring. “I have a lot of confidence in my fitness right now; if it [the steeple final] did go out at 8:15 pace the whole time, I would be happy to give it a ride,” says Cabral. “It [the pace] would kind of spread out the field – and maybe not everyone would be on their game. So really all the pretenders won’t be there if it is a really fast ride.”
And so the journey for the recent Princeton graduate continues later today with the first round of the steeplechase. It is then we will learn if more magic remains to propel Cabral’s storybook season.