Two young men streak around the last turn of Strehle track, eyes trained 100 meters ahead on the finish. The two runners, one in blue, the other in yellow, have already traversed seven times around the darkening oval, clearing 35 waist-high wooden barriers, seven of them paired with a pit of dark water more than two feet deep, an abrupt change in medium and elevation that invariably disrupts any fluidity which a romantic might attribute to the stride of a distance runner. There is not a graceful way to finish a steeplechase, but there is a fast one, and Anders Crabo PO ’12 has spent four years sharpening the latter method while donning the stoic blue singlet and fiery orange shorts of Pomona-Pitzer.
The race I describe is last year’s SCIAC championship, a dead heat between Crabo and the lanky frame of CMS trackster Bennett Naden HM ’13 all the way to the finish line, which proved to be less of a relief than a launching point to a final aerial segment of the battle as the two competitors lifted off and collapsed on the other side. Their muscles and wills exhausted, teammates rushed to their side, and the restless crowd forgot to exhale. Cue the surreal condensation of the vast expression of human effort into the minute closure of automatic timing.
Six hundredths of a second and Crabo walked away with his third SCIAC steeplechase title. With better luck, it would not have been that close. Crabo, whose teammates know him as “The Doctor,” had suffered physical misfortune of his own by clipping a barrier at the elite Mt. Sac Relays just over a week before the SCIAC meet, an injury that hampered The Doc from besting his old PR of 9:05.92 set at the national championship meet his sophomore year, when the intrepid young steepler finished seventh nationwide for Division III, one place behind fellow P-P steepler Brian Gillis. Both garnered All-American honors.
Historical context, if you will: the grueling event known as the steeplechase traces its origins hundreds of years back to the British Isles, where Industrial Revolution escapists found an intense pleasure racing from church steeple to church steeple, hopping streams and stone walls out of necessity. Years later, in 1975 Oslo, an earlier Swede named Anders Garderud, crushed the previous world record with a time of 8:10.4 (the record has since been cut to 7:53.63). Fast-forward to 1981 and zoom in on California, where Nick Buchan set a P-P steeple record of 8:56.13, a mark that has reemerged every spring since to survive each fresh onslaught of young P-P athletes.
This spring could be different. Thus far Crabo has masked the bittersweet taste of last April with nothing but savory success. He ran 9:07.51 earlier in the year at the Occidental Distance Carnival and only eight days ago struggled through the heat to finish in a personal-best 8:59.11 at this year’s Mt. Sac Relays, becoming only the third P-P steepler to ever break nine minutes and firing a bullet that grazed the scalp of Buchan’s school record. Crabo’s training plan has intentionally limited the number of steeplechase races he has competed in, looking to save his strength and mental focus for the ones that matter most. Thus far, the stratagem appears to be paying dividends.
There has been much talk in track circles of what Crabo could accomplish in the upcoming weeks: a fourth SCIAC title, a school record, possibly a national championship. While Crabo would like to let his racing speak for him, captain and fellow steepler Paul Balmer PO ’12 had plenty to say.
“Let me tell you,” Balmer said, “I’ve been Anders’s friend for four whole years and I’ve never seen him more motivated to race.”
At 8:40 p.m. tonight, the gun will go off under the lights at the University of Redlands, and Anders Crabo will lace up his spikes and run for a clean sweep of the SCIAC steeplechase over four years, but this will not be the last you hear of him. Crabo has a date with the Burns Track Complex at Claremont McKenna in May for the Division III National Championships, where he will undoubtedly be competing for a steeplechase title and a chance at eternal fame in the form of a P-P school record—that is if he does not fall this very evening.