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Steeplechase - Introduction

Steeplechase
The length of a steeple chase race for both male and female athletes (adult / senior) is 3000
meters (some 7.5 laps of the track). The oldest Junior athletes (Juniors A) run 3000m for males
and 2000m for women. Younger Juniors all run 2000 meters. Sometimes, the 2000 meter steeple
chase is also ran by adult men and women, just as a side event or a preparation for bigger
races. In the 3000m steeple chase, there are 28 barriers (male height: 91 cm, female height: 76
cm) and 7 barriers followed by a water pit of some 3.6m long.

Barriers and water pit


The distance between barriers and water pit depends on the position of the water pit on the
track. In most bigger stadiums, the water pit is located on the inside of the curve at the far end
of the track, in which case the distance between barriers is 78 meters. If the water pit is on the
outside of the curve, this distance increases to 82m. These outside water pits are rather
common on smaller tracks, but in stadiums there is usually no room outside the tarck since there
are the spectator stands. Exceptions were the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney, and also the World
Championships in Edmonton in 2001, where the waterpit was indeed outside. The bottom of the
water pit starts at a depth of some 0.9m but decreases gradually to track level further on. The
barrier in front of the pit is similar to the other 4 barriers per lap.

Distances and number of obstacles


Depending on whether the water pit is inside or outside, the length of each lap is somewhat
different from 400 meters. This difference is corrected for with the position of the start line,
which is either some 50m before the finish line (outside pit) or some 20m before the 200m start
line (inside pit). The exact location of th start line depends in case of an outside pit on whether it
is a 6 or 8 lane track (international races are always run on 8 lane tracks). On a 6 laner, each lap
is 410m, but on an 8 laner this would be some 120m. With an inside pit, it is dependent on how
far they have built the pit inside the track. Sometimes, the lap is some 398m, but in other cases
it could be as short as 392m. The barriers are always located in the last 7 laps of the race (4 per
lap plus one barrier+water pit). That means that one will meet a barrier some 60m after the
start if the pit is outside: in this case, the first barriers needs to be twice as wide as a normal
barrier by rule. If the pit is inside, however, one will first run some 220m without any barriers
and start taking barriers in the last 7 laps.

Difference between hurdle and barrier


The heigth of a barrier is 91.4cm (males; female 76cm). This is identical to the 400m hurdles for
men! The main difference between a normal hurdle and a steeple chase barrier however is the
size and weight. A steeple chase barrier is wider, thicker, heavier and has stands that prevent it
from falling over when hit. This means that when an athlete hits the barrier, not the barrier, but
most likely the athlete will fall over. The risk of this happening and the spectacular ways of
athletes to tackle the barriers make the steeple being voted the one of the most attractive
events to watch.

Steeple - History
The steeple chase originates from England. In 1850, some students from Exeter College in
Oxford discussed the possibility to run a trajectory with natural barriers and water elements, just
as it was done with the steeple chase for horses. Traditionally, the steeple chase used to be a
man and horse event in England, where the goal is to finish a trajectory with creeks and hedges
in the shortest time possible. One of these students, Halifax Wyat, claimed that he would
actually be quicker on the course than a horse.

This statement resulted in a running race near the town of Binsey (near Oxford), in which 24
natural barriers were included. Halifax Wyat proved to be right by winning the 2 mile race. In
England, Wyat's initiative was followed by steeple chase races between Oxfors and Cambridge
Universities. The steeple chase became a real event when it was placed on the program for the
1900 Olympics in Parijs. The fact, however, that the distance of subsequent races was never
exactly the same, proved that the event was not yet fully official.

In the 1900 and 1904 Olympics, the distance was 2500m. The English tried to set the standard
to 2 miles during their London Olympics in 1908. From the 1920 Antwerp Olympics onwards,
however, the standard distance became the "metric 2 mile distance": 3000m. The International
Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) only accepts the 3000m steeple chase as an official track
and field event from 1954. The first officialy accepted world record was set by the Hungarian
runner Sander Rozsnyoi in Bern (Switzerland), clocking a time of 8.49.6 min. Although the
American Horace Ashenfelter had previously set a faster time of 8.45.4, the IAAF did not
recognize this time as official world record.In the early years of the official steeple chase, English
and Finnish runners dominated the event. However, their home Olympics of 1948 (London) and
1952 (Helsinki) became a complete failure for the English and the Finnish steeple chasers: they
won no medals. From that moment, athletes from Sweden, Poland and Belgium are successful in
the steeple chase. The 1968 Olympics mark the start of the Kenyan dominance, that has
remained untouched until today.

Steeple Training
Simon demonstrates the passage of the water pit, using snapshots from a film taken in Tilburg at
a club competition meeting (1999):

Click here for an animation (360 Kb; loading may take some time)
picture 1 picture 2 picture 3
Picture 1: The jump towards the barrier should not be a high parabolic jum where one would
land almost vertically on the top of the barrier. You should really jump at it almost in a straight
"low" line. The heal of your foot should hit the barrier on the side, such that the foot can role
over the barrier with the toes ending on the other side of the barrier.

Picture 2: Here you see that the foot has started to role over the barrier. An important feature
is that the centre of gravity of the body actually stays very low; this can be achieved by
forwarding the arms underneath your body.

Picture 3: Due to the low arms movement, the centre of gravity has always stayed low. Here
the foot has rolled to the other side of the barrier and is ready to push off. The knees are
nicely bent, due to the low position on the barrier.

picture 4 picture 5 picture 6


Picture 4: Here, I have pushed off from the barrier. And here is also the first mistake I am
making (yes, I am not perfect ;-) !!). I have let my foot off the barrier too soon, before it could
actually complete a powerful pushoff. One should actually wait until the body "almost falls
into the water pit"and then push the leg straigh off the barrier for maximum push.

Picture 5: Note that I have jumped off the barrier in a downwards hyperbole / straigh line.
Don't jump upwards! This wil cause you to seriously loose time and make a harder, more
vertical landing into the water. In turn, that would cause a slower step out of the water pit,
because one has to convert vertical direction again into horizontal. Also note that my mistake
clearly shows here: the knee is fully bent, while a hard push-off would have resulted in an
almost straigh leg backwards!

Picture 6: I have landed in the water at about 75% of the pit, the ideal landing space. Not too
deep, but the comfortable shock-absorbing effect of the water. Try to land with your centre of
gravity in front of your body ("lean forward"), this will facilitate stepping out forwardly. I only
marginally lean forward, again due to not pushing off completely with my leg.

picture 7 picture 8 picture 9


Picture 7: I am stepping out of the water pit within my first step after landing, slightly hanging
forward. The second foot should always come dry; in training, focus should also be on a good
and firm second step out of the water!

Picture 8: With a dry second foot I run out of the water pit. One can see that I just manage to
keep my second foot dry; it would again have been easier if I had pushed off better from the