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Interval Session #39 - Stephen Michel

March 5, 2008

Last year in Wyoming, despite the impression that Cheyenne Central senior Brendan Ames was the dominant force, close observers would have noticed a talented junior from Laramie High named Stephen Michel giving Ames everything he could handle in several events. At the 2007 Wyoming indoor and outdoor state meets they battled across the dashes and jumps, with Ames garnering more national attention due to his excellent hurdle marks. Michel, meanwhile, bided his time and kept working on his specialty, the triple jump. This past winter Michel made his own national splash, dropping a 49-10.50 triple jump bomb in early January that led the nation until Christian Taylor reached past 50 feet a few weeks later.

Hardly a dabbler, Michel has PRs (6-6 HJ, for instance) which would have won events in which he wasn't even entered at the recent Wyoming state indoor meet. As it was, he walked away from the weekend with four individual golds (55m, 200m, LJ and TJ) and established himself as the talent of the state, as well as a rising multi-event threat down the road.

DyeStat assistant editor Dave Devine heads for cowboy country to hang with an athlete whose diverse track talents are exceeded by perhaps only his passion for the sport.

1) You've had a great season so far, and it started off with a bang at the University of Wyoming on January 11th, when you went 49-10.50 in the triple jump for the #1 mark in the nation at the time. Can you talk about how it felt when you realized you'd nailed such a big jump?

Well, I usually go up to the pit during warm ups and try to eyeball about how far 50' for triple would be, or 24' for long, and try to locate a reference mark in the sand for how far those respective distances are. After I jumped the 49-footer, I noticed that it was just about where I thought 50 feet would be. At that point I sprinted back to the judges to see what the mark actually was,and when I saw it was 49-10.50 I proceeded to jump around, making a giant fool of myself.

2) Last weekend you won four individual gold medals at the Wyoming State Indoor Championships. Your best high jump mark from this season (6-6) would have easily won that event too, and you weren't even in it. Is it difficult to decide which events to enter in a certain competition, and how do you make those choices? How do you maintain your focus through a 2-day event like the state indoor, shifting from event to event, prelims to finals?

Deciding what I want to do in a coming track meet is usually up to my coaches, so I try not to worry about it too much. I tend to do whatever I'm thrown into without a second thought. That is, unless I really feel the need to try something new, which my coaches have been pretty flexible with. I love track meets that last for more than one day, because that usually means I get a little bit more time to rest between events. I love going from event to event though, because if I end up performing poorly in one event I always get the chance to make up for it in another.

3) Last year in the state of Wyoming, you had Brendan Ames to push you and measure yourself against. How valuable was that? Have you missed having such a close competitor in your own state this year?

I certainly have missed having Brendan Ames push me. He gave me the motivation to work my hardest because I knew I would have to have a phenomenal day to beat him, period. I also love being in the mindset that I really have something to prove, and facing someone who had the odds stacked so far in their favor really helped me compete my best to win against all odds. The experience I gained from competing with him was priceless, not only because trying to beat him was such great motivation, but also because he was an all-around good guy. He was always very humble when it came to winning, and it set a great example for me, which is something I have tried to duplicate.

4) You made your splash on the national scene this winter in the triple jump, but you excel in a number of events. Do you have a particular favorite, and if so, why? If you had the luxury of specializing solely in one event, do you think you'd enjoy that, or find it boring?

I absolutely love doing the triple jump. Just the fact that there are so many factors going into it; incorporating speed, power and technique all into one event really captures my interest the most. However, if I were only able to specialize in the triple jump I would probably become bored very quickly. I like having a little variety when it comes to events because it's fun to experiment with new things. I'm a little science geek at heart.

5) How did you get started in so many track events? Were you one of those freshman on the track team who just wanders around during practice, trying out different things? Picking up stuff and throwing it? Jumping on the high jump pit when no one is looking? Or were you dialed into the jumps and sprints right from the start? Were there other sports for you, before track?

I had originally started out life being a baseball fanatic. I played baseball for as long as I can remember, but I grew up watching my older sisters and cousins running cross country meets in Wyoming and Colorado. When I got to junior high, I felt it necessary to "carry on the family name" and do cross country as well. I did not, however, find the same enjoyment in distance running that my elder siblings and cousins had; so when spring track came around my 7th grade year, I figured high jump and 400 meter dash looked like a lot of fun. However, one day my high jump coach didn't show up to practice, so we were directed to try something else. This is where I first triple jumped and loved it from the start. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I had pretty much found an identity as a jumper. However, it wasn't until my sophomore year that I was even put into a race under 400 meters. This is where I found that sprinting the 100 and 200 was much more enjoyable than the 400. Still though, if I do have some free time after practice, I do mess around shot putting and hurdling and such until I'm directed to go home.

6) What's it like being an elite track and field athlete in Laramie, Wyoming? It's not exactly a part of the country that comes to mind when people think of top-end sprinters and jumpers. Does it help to have a state university there? Are there other resources which you draw upon?

Even though Wyoming isn't a track hot spot for sprinters and jumpers like California, Texas, and the Southeast, I still get to see some great performances that go on at the University of Wyoming. I try to volunteer with meets they put on, to try and pick up on a few things here and there to help better myself. It was also great to have one of the University's former jumpers, Coach Sinner, come down and help with our training last year. His work with us was phenomenal. It was he who helped turn me from a consistent 42-foot jumper to a consistent 46-foot jumper, with a 48-foot PR at the time he was training us. Without his input I'm sure I would still be struggling in the jumps.

Side-by-side, Stephen Michel, and his hero, British TJer Jonathan Edwards

7) The inevitable question that comes up when someone excels at multiple events is whether you plan to try the decathlon? Is that something you've looked into? Have you attempted a multi-event competition before? Discussed it with future college coaches?

The decathlon definitely sounds like a great thing to try. It's a shame that Wyoming doesn't have any decathlon competitions unless you're competing at the University. However, I've taken steps to get a little experience with some of the events this season by throwing the shot put and running the hurdles at a few laid back meets just in case I compete in one in the future. It's something I'd definitely be willing to try, but I haven't gotten to as of yet. I haven't really had too much discussion with my future college coach about it either.

8) If you could kick it for a day with any professional track athlete, hang out with that person in Laramie and get a few pointers, who would it be? Where in Laramie would you take them, and what things would you ask them about?

The athlete I would definitely choose is the great triple jump world record holder, Jonathan Edwards. This is because I have tried to model my triple jumping style after his, and I study a lot of his jumping film. He would probably be happy that he'd only have one day with me though, because I would relentlessly hound him for jumping tips. We probably wouldn't leave the sand pit until I was satisfied or he ran away begging for mercy from so many questions. I would of course, however, invite him for dinner afterwards. Haha.

Photos: (top and above left) Foto-Sport, LLC, www.customsportposters.com; (above right) Getty Images

Interval Sessions Indoors 08