Karen Steen traveled from Olympia (WA) to the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh intent on setting a world record in the 2,000-meter steeplechase, and did exactly that in one of the most exciting races at the 2009 USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Six world records and 21 American records were set at the meet.
Steen, an outstanding runner at Pacific Lutheran University and now one of the premier runners in the Pacific Northwest, bolted to the front at Titan Stadium when the gun sounded to start her 45-49 age-group event. It was clear from the outset that if Steen set a world record under the scorching Wisconsin heat, she would run alone at the front.
She was among the more than 1,000 athletes ages 30 to 95+ who competed in this 4-day meet to determine the best of the best among the nation’s runners, jumpers and throwers.
The onlookers at Steen’s record effort, including myself, were immediately aware of her presence as the track announcer was quick to point out that—after the first 400 meters of this grueling 5-lap test over 3 hurdles and a water barrier each lap—Steen was on world-record pace.
Watching her progress for 3 more laps the fans were screaming words of encouragement as she passed by, and then a rousing crescendo greeted her in the final stretch as she realized the record was hers for the taking, and roared home in 7:07.49 to break the old record by more than 9 seconds (7:16.90 by Julie Leonard of Switzerland in 2004).
Almost lost in the moment of Karen Steen’s triumphant performance was the fact that both the runner-up in the race—Andi Camp (30-34 at 7:17.28) and 3rd place finisher Lisa Valle (40-44 at 7:17.36)—were within 1 second of breaking the world record.
Steen, who averaged approximately 5:42 per mile, is no stranger to world records. In 2005, she set the world mark for 2,000-meter steeplechase in the 40-44 group by running 7:05.06.
Steen, who runs for Club Northwest, would return 2 days later to win the 1,500 in an American-record time of 4:48.08. Her individual performance was arguably the best among pure times of any track athlete at the Nationals, with a 98.85% age-grade rating.
A close second to Karen Steen’s effort came from Sabra Harvey of Houston, running in the 60-64 group. Harvey matched Steen’s world record with one of her own, winning the 800 in 2:34.66, and then returned to capture the 1,500 in an American-record 5:22.50.
Harvey is a graphic designer who started jogging 9 years ago and only began competing in masters competition last year, proving once again that you never know what you can do until you try.
Other world records were set by Audrey Lary (75-79) in the 400 (1:27.41), Florence “Flo” Meiler (75-79) in the 80-meter hurdles (18.63), Frank Levine (95-99) in the 5,000 (50:10.56), and Leland McPhie (95-99) in the Long Jump (1.93 meters/6-04).
American records were also set by Flo Meiler in the 200 hurdles (46.68) and pentathlon (4,783 points); Becky Sisley (70-74) in the 80 hurdles (17:32), 200 hurdles (43.87) and javelin (26.09m/85-07); Leland McPhie in the 3 kilogram shot put (6.87m/22-06.5) and triple jump (4.00m/13-01.5); Max Springer (95-99) in the 100 (29.31) and 400 (2:45.36); and Audrey Lary (75-79) in the triple jump (7.43m/24-04.25) and weight throw (10.40m/34-01.5).
More American records in the field events were set by Bruce McBarnette (45-49) in the high jump (1.93m/6-04); Robert Ward (75-79) in the discus (41.18m/135-01); Harriett Bloemker (75-79) in the javelin (22.54m/73-11.5); and 4 others in the weight throw—Jennifer Stephens (35-39) at 10.49m/34-05, Myrle Mensey (60-64) at 15.73m/51-07.75, Lillian Snaden (80-84) at 6.92m/22-08, and Ronald Summers (55-59) at 18.18m/57-07.75.
Two American 5,000-meter race walk-records were set by Shirley Dockstader (75-79) at 34:34.60 and John Starr (80-84) at 33:57.72.
Kathryn (Kathy) Martin (55-59), who dominated last year’s meet while winning gold medals in the 800, 1,500, 5,000, 10,000 and 2,000-meter steeplechase, again won the 4 events she entered this year—the 1,500 (5:22.93), 5,000 (19:46.47), 10,000 (40:04.03) and the 2,000 steeplechase (8:26.86) She finished 5th overall in the steeple and 1st in her age group. Last year Martin set the American record in the steeple with an 8:23.20 clocking.
Among the non-record performances that caught my eye were Lonnie Hooker (45-49) in the 100 (10.93) and 200 (22.46); Bill Collins (55-59) in the 100 (11.56) and 400 (54.87); Steve Robbins (65-69) in the 100 (12.66); Antwon Dussett (30-34) in the 400 (47.17); Steve Gallegos (50-54) in the 800 (2:10.70) and 1,500 (4:22.47); Christine Olen (40-44) in the 1,500 (4:45.98); Jan Frisby (M65-69) in the 1,500 (5:09.25) and 5,000 (19:20.54); and Tom Bernhard (55-59) in the 5,000 (17:06.84).
Others were Richard Cochran (70-74) in the discus (47.79m), Cochran won the bronze medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics; and Ed Burke (65-69) in the hammer (50.62), Burke was a 3-time Olympian and flag bearer for the United States team at the Opening Ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.