Women’s track team awaits arrival of steeplechase

Monica Wright

Only a few short years after the NCAA decided to add pole vault to women’s track and field, women are taking on yet another all-male event, the steeplechase.
The event, also known as “plastic cross country,” is a 3,000-meter race with several hurdles to jump — including a water barrier that requires the runner to step on the hurdle and leap a small pool of water.
A men’s contested event since 1959, it has been in the works for women since 1995, when NCAA officials began to consider broadening women’s track and field with the pole vault and steeplechase.
Coach Gary Wilson finds the slow pace of the committees frustrating.
“Why was the 800 the longest event we ran until the 1968 Olympics?” Wilson asked. “It doesn’t make sense, they added the triple jump in one year but when they get to the steeplechase they waver on it.”
Today the wavering has all but come to an end. The 2004 Olympics will include the steeplechase as will next year’s NCAA competition. The Big Ten has yet to follow their lead.
But that doesn’t deter sophomore Victoria Moses, who became Minnesota’s first woman to ever compete in the event last weekend at the Mt. SAC Relays in California.
Her time of 11:17 was less than a minute off the leading U.S. time of 10:21 and may be among the top 20 times in the country.
“This is completely new for me,” Moses, a distance runner, said. “Women are demanding to have the same events as men and this is a great one. At Mt. SAC, I fell twice and ran with my shoes soaked, and it was great. It’s a different challenge, but it’s kind of like you’re out playing in the rain.”
Because the event is so new, Minnesota doesn’t even own the required 2.6-foot hurdles or the 3.06-meter water barrier for Moses to practice on.
While the $6,000 set is on order, she practices with regular hurdles on the track and simulates the water barrier by jumping off a box into a sand pit.
“Victoria’s got a tremendous attitude,” Wilson said. “She’s got coordination, flexibility, strength and grit. You have to have those qualities to leave the ground 35 times in one race.”
Senior Eric Pierce, the 1999 Big Ten steeplechase champion, thinks Moses is on the right path to steeplechase success.
“I’ve seen them out practicing and hopefully Wilson will encourage them in this new event,” Pierce said. “They used to think women were not as strong and wouldn’t allow them to do marathons and long races, but once they add these events, they really catch on.”
The United States isn’t the only place where the steeplechase is becoming more accessible to women. Between 10 and 12 other countries are grooming women for competition.
While Wilson is happy things are changing, he wishes steeplechase had come around sooner.
“I guess it’s just something that takes evolution, but it would be nice if America was the leader of change instead of a follower for once,” Wilson said. “They used to think women’s pole vault wasn’t safe and that there was no interest and now every girl in high school wants to try the pole vault.
“It’s time for them to get out of the 17th century and realize women can do the same things as men.”

Monica Wright covers track and field and welcomes comments at [email protected]