Kevin, you have had an amazing year to wrap up your Cal eligibility.
Yes, it's been a pretty incredible ride.
How did you ever get involved with running the Steeplechase?
Well, Tony (Coach Sandoval) introduced me to it. The thinking was that coming out of high school (Clovis West) I was too slow to be a 1500m runner - and that the 5000m would be more to my liking. Add to that I was pretty athletic. I played soccer in high school and Coach Sandoval said it takes some athleticism to steeple. So I thought I had a chance at being good at it.
Who coached you how to hurdle in the Steeple?
Well, assistant coach Chris Coffee was a steeplechaser who graduated from Cal in 2001. He helped me a lot with technique and race tactics, while Coach Sandoval helped me with training and track workouts.
I heard that you had several injuries during your Cal career and one in particular that was not track related. Can you tell us about those?
Yes, I was bicycling to practice one day during my third year at Cal, just before my 5000m race at the Stanford Invitational. I hit a car door that had swung open. I hit the door and went airborne. I had to have stitches in my shoulder and I had bumps and bruises from my shoulder down to my ankle.
Yes, it wasn't pretty.
Then during my 4th year, I had really bad sciatica. It took awhile to figure out. I had nerves that were being pinched in the ankle and foot and couldn't figure out what was causing it. That was another track season down the drain.
What kept you positive through those periods of injury?
Basically my teammates and close friends.
They made me realize my mental as well as physical potential and helped me realize that although track was an important part of my life, I was a pretty well rounded individual too, and that I would get thru this.
Has it been difficult being a student/athlete at Cal?
Well, there have been ups and downs, but overall, it has been a growing and maturing process. I learned a lot about myself as a person, for example how to balance athletics with academics, my social life, etc. You grow up a lot figuring that all out.
You were on the Cal DMR team (distance medley relay) that literally shocked the NCAA world back in Fayetteville, Arkansas for the NCAA Indoor Championships in March. What was that like for you and the team?
Well, it was bittersweet actually.
We were the underdogs and SUPER nervous! We wanted to win, and knew that if everyone ran the kind of times that they were capable of, we would have a good shot. During our warm-up, there were tons of butterflies, but we tried to keep it as positive as possible. Again, if all of us were able to just run the kind of times that we were capable of, we knew that we'd be in the mix at the finish.
I noticed that David Torrance opened up the DMR relay by "gapping" the rest of the field by about 10-15 meters. How did this affect you and the rest of the team?
It really made us believers.
David was out there leading everyone else and it kind of validated our potential. You've got some great teams out there on the track. The atmosphere was absolutely electric.
Here we were at the NCAA Indoor Championships and everyone was going absolutely nuts. The place was so loud that you could barely hear yourself think. It was almost like a rock concert. Again, a lot of electricity in the air, and David really took the pace out strong during his opening (1200m) leg. We had run 9:34.99 to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference (MPSF) Championships in Seattle in February so we knew we had a shot at a win.
Senior Nestor Solis ran the 400m leg after David Torrence. And then came a real strong 800m leg by Francis Gadayan. He put Cal right into second place and the next thing you know Cal was battling it out with Stanford, of all teams!
Yes, then I got the baton and was stalking Russell Brown of Stanford. I guess most of the people in the stands couldn't believe we were battling for the lead. It was kind of like, "Who are these guys?"
And during my entire leg (1600m) all I could hear was the announcer yelling out,"It's Stanford ... AND CAL! ... It's Stanford ... AND CAL!!"
It seems like I've watched the YouTube video of that race a million times (see link below). You were beating Wisconsin, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, and even Texas! You just got edged out by Brown of Stanford at the finish line by 13 hundreths oif a second (9:33.64 vs 9:33.77 ). That's got to be one helluva memory.
It really is!
Again though, it was bittersweet cause we really wanted to win. But it certainly ranks up there in the top 3 of my career at Cal.
What are the other two?
|GoldenBearSports.com, Michael Pimentel
Well, at the Pac-10s I beat my personal best by 15 seconds in the steeplechase. I was up against Aaron Aguayo of ASU, arguably one of the best steeplechasers in Pac-10 history. He's one of only 11 track and field athletes in the Pac-10 that have won their event all 4 years of their college career.
Yes, that guy is an absolute monster. I remember him running at the Pac-10s and the Regionals. He runs as if he is on a mission!
He really does.
He's so strong that he forces you to think about him whenever you race. In any event, I wound up running 8:40.52 which qualified me for the Regionals in Eugene. I came in second and was only 4 seconds behind Aaron. But to PR by 15 seconds was insane - I was really happy about it.
Was this an important race for you at Cal?
Yes, my Steeplechase at the Pac-10s was certainly a turning point. I was chasing down Aguayo and going for the win. I had always been in great shape, but I have lacked confidence. This race was a huge confidence booster - definitely a turning point for me.
What would be your other top 3 collegiate memory?
The NCAA Outdoor Championships in Sacramento this year.
Again, I was super nervous, but I just tried to run a smart race. I wanted to win. I didn't want to let Aguayo go like I did at Regionals. The weather was perfect. Kirui really took it out the last 1000m. I ran 8:41.54 for tenth place, but there were 5 foreign runners ahead of me, so I became an All-American!
Yes, Barbabas Kirui of Mississippi is from Kenya, Andrew Lemoncello of Florida State is from Scotland, and Jan Foerster of Virginia is German . . . just to name a few.
Yes - for some reason the Steeplechase really brings out people from all over the world. It's an amazing event.
Any favorite moments watching other Cal teammates of yours?
Alysia Johnson going sub-2 in the Women's 800m Finals at NCAAs. She's been so dominant all season long, and then she runs a 1:59.29, that was incredible!
And of course, David Torrence breaking the school record (previously held by Don Bowden) and going sub-4 in the mile back in April in Berkeley. David is talented. He's worked really hard to get to the next level. Although I wished that I had broken the record, I'm happy that he did. He really deserved it. David is a special athlete. I'm really glad that we have been teammates.
David Torrance and a couple of you middle-distance guys have been running what you call the Downhill Mile in the early morning hours in Berkeley, running down Bancroft. I've seen the race on YouTube - tell us a little bit about that.
A couple of years ago we decided to run a Downhill Mile in Berkeley. We usually hold the race about a month after cross-country season ends, in December. We start up at the I-House on Piedmont Avenue and run all the way down to Berkeley High below Shattuck. It's kind of a moral booster thing that gets all the 1500m guys together. The record in the mile is 3:43 - so that is what we are going after!
Several of those Downhill Miles are on YouTube and they certainly are captivating. Here you guys are running down Bancroft in the middle of the night. There are guys on bicycles with lights acting as escorts and even a garbage truck that is helping to light up the roadway. It's a classic.
Well, we try and make sure that it is as safe as we can.
We usually have some cars up ahead of us making sure that traffic gets blocked at cross streets. The YouTube video is pretty cool. I guess it has become kind of a cult thing among local runners, especially those in the area who are still running at the high school level. But please, folks, don't try this at home!
Do you have any plans after the NCAAs?
Yes. I'm heading to Indianapolis for the USATF Outdoor Nationals this weekend with a handful of my Cal teammates. My goal is to finish in the top 8 and to break the Cal school record of 8:36.67 set by Gary Blume back in 1979.
Hey, now you are talking about my era!
(Laughing) Well, if I finish in the top 8 I get to make a traveling team for the U.S. That would allow me to go to Osaka, Brazil, and El Salvador.
Kevin, it's been great watching your career unfold at Cal - especially because you were able to battle back from that car accident and other injuries. That's the mark of a real champion. Congratulations on becoming an All-American and representing the Blue and Gold so well.
Thanks; it's been a great ride.
Now, hopefully, I can get the school record this weekend in Indianapolis. The meet should be televised, so be sure to check it out.
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