THE MIDWESTERN MAN OF STEEL
Dan Steele - 400m intermediate hurdles
To see Dan Steele now, one wouldn't think he was once considered small for his age. When he and his identical twin brother, Darrin, went out for track at Gerrard High in Milan, IL, they were no asset to the team at all. In fact they were almost kicked off the team beacause their performances were so poor. But they they loved the sport anyhow, and worked hard in the summertime to improve. Dan and Darrin used to put on their own private track meets where the two would compete against each other in all the events. This off season work, along with significant growth spurts, soon made them the top performers at Gerrard. Dan was voted MVP his junior year, and placed second in 300 low hurdles and third in the 110 highs at the state meet his senior year.
It seems ironic that Dan Steele's best open 400 during his first indoor season at Eastern of 49.79 is the same time that won him the NCAA crown over one lap of hurdles four years later. Probably not for Steele, however, as he often knew exactly what his abilities were and never hesitated to let people know. At first, coaches Neil Moore and Tom Akers started him off as a decathlete. He competed well over the 10 events, setting a freshman record of 6220 points in placing second at the Alabama Relays. He proved promising in the long hurdles, too, but it soon became apparent that he could not train for them both and find success. So he chose the hurdles. Perfectly built for the event, at 6'2" and 190 pounds, Steele not only had great speed but also had the strength to keep good form during the event's toughest stages, with long legs that produced an exceptionally long stride. His first season over the intermediates wasn't awesome, but he dipped below 54 seconds four times and placed second at the Illini Classic with his season-best 53.69.
The next year however, after a hard summer of training, Steele moved into a whole new level. After placing second in the A.M.C.U. indoor 400 at 48.49, he was nearly unstoppable during the regular season outdoors. Consistently under 52 seconds in the hurdles, Steele took home wins at the Semotion Relays, Illini Classic and the Southern Illinois Invitational, where he stopped the clock at a season-best 51.24, less than a second off Rodney Jackson's 1973 school record of 50.5. Steele later threw tyrany on the conference championships in May, winning not only the intermediates, but also the the open 400 and was the anchor for Eastern's triumphant 4x400 relay. Throughout the season he produced his best-ever dash times of 21.8 and 47.90 as well.
By now, Darrin, who had spent the last year serving in the National Guard, had joined the team as well. Darrin, a decathlete, who broke his brother's freshman record with a score of 6692, joined Dan in taking down all of the Panther's opposition. At the beginning of the 1990 season, Steele was really looking forward to making NCAA qualifying in the hurdles outdoors. He had heard that most international hurdlers competed over 800 meters during the indoor campaign, and that the event very much simulated the effort given in a 400 hurdles race, as far as energy output. Steele wasn't a great lover of distance races, but decided to give it a shot. He had been timed at 1:58 in a trial over the summer, but never raced the event. Having already set a new indoor 400 record of 48.00 early in the season, Steele toed the line against three of Eastern's best 800 runners at the Pepsi Invitational. Behind for most of the race, Steele powered by them all in the last 200 to win in 1:55.14. He later lowered the 400 record again to 47.99 in placing second at conference.
Steele hit the outdoor season hungry to qualify for the NCAA championships. He got off to a great start by running 50.92 at Alabama, but his progress was interrupted when he sufffered a sprained ankle while warming up for the EIU Invitational. The injury kept him out of training for 10 days. The Drake Relays were just a couple days off, and after convincing coach Akers that he was able to run, competed in America's Classic unprepared, but still placed second. He finally made automatic qualifying with a 50.72 clocking during a last chance meet at Indianapolis.
At nationals, he took Jackson's record with a 50.24 romp which was good for fifth, just .01 away from fourth. Now an All-American, it wasn't long afterward that Steele began to have thoughts of taking the whole thing his senior year.
When the indoor season began, he decided to concentrate on the 800 in an effort to improve his hurdles stamina outdoors. He was in top shape before Christmas vacation, but during break he suffered a leg injury that kept him from training completely for a month. Once recovered, he scored a big win at the Illini Classic in 1:53.61, but at the Mid-Continent meet he placed only third. A week later he told Coach Moore that he wanted to take one more crack at his own 400 record, and entered a last chance meet at Indiana. He won in a record 47.87, but in the process suffered a major hamstring pull in his left leg, which kept him out of the entitre outdoor season. Frustrated, he tried to practice, and work through the injury, but that only made it worse and increased the length of time he needed to recover.
By the time the new school year rolled around, his leg was healed, and he was ready to start fresh. Although his indoor eligibility was used up, he still put in a full season as an unattached competitor, running the long sprints and high hurdles. He was healthy and everything was falling into place. Alabama was his first collegiate intermediate hurdles race in two years. He took it majestically in 51.34, with his whole family cheering him on in the stands. Steele proceeded to win every intermediate hurdles race he entered. After clocking a 14.11 high hurdles personal record in winning the Illini Classic, he stormed the long hurdles at the EIU Invitational in 51.55 as well as the open 400 in 47.5. A week later he took the Drake Relays in 51.44. There he was also a member of Eastern's victorious 4x110 high hurdles shuttle relay. Despite winning big most of the time, the NCAA qualifying standard of 50.70 still eluded Steele, and when he could only produce 51.61 at conference he became worried that he would not make it. However, in a last chance meet at Illinois he captured new found speed, and after taking the prelim in 51.09, powered to a 50.58 in the final for an automatic qualifier. All of a sudden Steele could see himself running under 50 seconds.
At the NCAA championship he was running to win, but he also knew it would take the best performance of his life. Derrick Adkins of Georgetown had already run 48 that season and looked strong in the rounds. Steele did too, as he went 50.35 in the semi. In the final, Steele drew lane seven with Marty Beck of U.C.L.A. in six and Adkins in five. Steele tore through the first 200 and soon made up the stagger on the runner in lane eight, and was breifly in the lead, but then Adkins and Beck moved ahead of him slightly around the curve. Suddenly, at hurdle seven, Adkins hit his trial leg and went crashing to the track. Soon after, Steele moved up on Beck's shoulder, and the two went stride for stride down the rest of the stretch. Steele's lean at the finish was textbook, and brought him to the line in 49.79, ahead of Beck by a mere one hundreth of a second. Dan has coached at the University of Oregon and is currently the head coach at Northern Iowa.
Dan Steele's unndefeated season
400 intermediate hurdles
- Alabama Relays :51.34
- Semotion Relays :52.89
- EIU Invitational :51.55
- Illini Classic :51.52
- Drake Relays :51.44
- Mid-Continent championships :51.61
- Illinois last chance :50.58
- NCAA championships :49.79