Lions to Run First Collegiate Indoor Steeplechase at Sykes & Sabock Challenge

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By Kyle Lucas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERISTY PARK, PA. - Penn State track and field will host the Sykes & Sabock Challenge Cup, its final indoor meet of the season, Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Ashenfelter III Indoor Track. The Nittany Lions are one of 14 teams competing in the meet.

Saturday will feature the first-ever collegiate running of the indoor 2,000-meter steeplechase. Penn State will have three women competing in the event. Despite it not being recognized as an official collegiate event it will still produce a new collegiate record. Senior Natalie Bower, junior Emily Giannotti and sophomore Abigail Benson, will each have a chance to add their names to the record books.

Since the race is indoors it there will only be two steeples located on the front and backstretch of the 200-meter track and there will be no water pit. The women will have to hurdle 20 steeples in the 10-lap race.

The trio will look to continue Penn State's successful tradition in the steeplechase. Horace Ashenfelter III, who the track takes its name from, won the gold medal in the steeplechase in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic games.

"It's kind of cool to be brining an indoor steeple to his indoor track," said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "It's very rare that the steeple is ever run indoors.'

Penn State will celebrate its 19 seniors Saturday as they compete in their final indoor track meet at home. The senior ceremony is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m.

Saturday is also Military Appreciation day. There will be several "Wounded Warrior" events held. One of which will be the shot put.  Ryan Whiting, the 2012 IAAF World Champion and a 2012 Olympian, will be throwing shot put. Whiting will be throwing against veterans in the U.S Army and U.S. Navy. The shot put is schedule to start at noon. This will be the second-straight year of the event.

The Nittany Lions will introduce the "John Lucas Athlete of the Meet" award. The award will honor the most outstanding male and female athlete this weekend. It is named in memory of former Penn State coach, professor and Olympian John Lucas who passed way in November of last year.

The Sykes & Sabock Challenge cup is named in honor "Dutch" Sykes and Dr. Ralph Sabock. Both men were long-time officials for both Penn State track and a field and cross country. They officiated for 30 years. They also officiated NCAA championships, Special Olympics and physically challenged events. Dr. Sabock is a former Kinesiology professor and Sykes was the Intramural Director.


FEATURE: Lions Set for First Indoor Steeplechase

UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa. - Three of Penn State women's distance runners will look to make history Saturday morning in the Sykes & Sabock Challenge Cup at Horace Ashenfelter III Indoor Track.

For the first time ever in a collegiate race an indoor steeplechase of 2,000 meters will be run. The 10-lap race will consist of two hurdles, or steeples, each lap located on the home and backstretches of the 200-meter track. The race, however, will not feature a steeple with a water pit.

While the 2,000-meter steeplechase is not recognized as an official collegiate event, it will still produce a collegiate record in its first running. Senior Natalie Bower, junior Emily Giannotti and sophomore Abigail Benson will all have a shot at setting the first record in the event.

"We have a pretty experienced and talented steeple group that will be racing," said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "It will be very fun to see them in action."

Typically, the steeplechase is not run until March or April because of the weather. The 3,000-meter outdoor event consists of 35 total steeples and includes a water pit.

"I think it will give us a big head start on the outdoor season with a lots of good practices," said Bower, a four time first round NCAA qualifier in the outdoor event. "I think it will be a fun race. I'm really excited to mix it up a little bit."

While all three girls are quite decorated in the outdoor event, Giannotti a first-round champion last year and Benson a third place finisher at USA Junior Championships a year ago, they were not recruited as steeplechasers.

The steeplechase is not a common event in high school track. In fact the only state in the country to run it is New York. While Benson is from New York, even she didn't run it.

The trio became involved in the steeplechase at the end of cross country season their freshman year.

"Typically, we get our freshmen in, every year at the end of cross country season we do a couple of days of steeple practice and pick some kids that show some potential in the event and start training for it," said Alford-Sullivan, who is also the cross country head coach. "It's really an event they develop in college and get better at."

Giannotti wasn't too sure of running the event at first.

"I didn't really choose too. Coach kind of recruited me to do it my freshman year," said Giannotti on running the steeplechase.  At first I was kind of skeptical. I didn't know how it was going to go because I don't think I'm the most coordinated person. I think it's fun, it breaks it up and it kind of takes the obstacle of cross country and puts it on the track."

To train for the indoor steeple the trio of athletes has continued with their regular distance training workouts, but has mixed in steeples around the track. However, they have been having morning practices once a week outsides to focus on technique.

Penn State has had a successful history in developing steeplechase runners. Horace Ashenfelter III, who the indoor track get its name from, is Penn State graduate and a 1952 Olympic gold medalist at the Helsinki games.

"It's kind of cool to be brining an indoor steeple to his indoor track," said Alford-Sullivan. "It's very rare that the steeple is ever run indoors."

Ashenfelter III isn't Penn State's only claim to fame in the event. Bridget Franek, the 2010 NCAA champion and 2012 Olympian is from Penn State. Franek was teammates with Bower and Giannotti.

"She lead the way for me and showed me what it was all about. I looked up to her a lot," said Bower. "I learned a lot of things from her."

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