For a brief moment Saturday in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, James Yau had lost his lead.
But then he heard long-distance coach Alex Gibby cheering him on from the sideline. He saw the thousands of people in attendance at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, many of them in maize and blue. He remembered that Gibby told him he was there to do a job.
“Seeing (the second-place runner) pass me, I knew I had someone to run with,” Yau said. “I could hear coach Gibby from the sidelines cheering me on.”
And he erased the deficit and won the race.
Yau edged out Duke’s Christian Britto by .44 seconds in the Olympic Development race, completing the 3,000-meter course in 9:06.23 and becoming the best Michigan finisher of the weekend.
Yau led almost wire to wire, running at the front of a three-man lead pack among a field of 15. After he briefly lost his lead, he regained it 30 seconds later and held it for good for his first career steeplechase win in his third race.
“The steeplechase is a really exciting race,” Yau said. “It’s one that as you build more confidence, you start to run better and better.”
Yau, five other individuals and two relay teams formed the Wolverine contingent at the historic Penn Relays in Philadelphia, while head coach Jerry Clayton was with field events, hurdles and some sprints at the Triton Invitational at UC San Diego.
“(The Penn Relays is) such a historic event in itself,” Clayton said. “It’s great for the athletes to be able to experience that. There’s no event quite like the Penn Relays.”
Yau certainly responded well. The Olympic Development race is for less experienced runners than the college championship. If Yau had run in the college championship, he would have finished ninth.
Still, he said the win gave him some confidence going forward in what Clayton believes is his best event. The obstacles make it tougher than the mile, but it isn’t as long as the 5,000-meter run.
“It takes a little more of a power athlete when you’re dealing with the barriers, and of course the water jump and all that,” Clayton said. “That’s an event where once they have an incline for the event and they start doing it more and more, it’s not unusual to see the times really come down once they start to get a feel for the event.”
Across three days at the Penn Relays and one in San Diego, Michigan racked up five personal records. Junior August Pappas finished third in the 10,000-meter race, shattering his previous personal best by 54 seconds and running a 29:40.25.
At the Triton Invitational, Clayton — a specialist in field events — continued to make major strides with the team’s field events, despite each athlete battling winds on the West Coast.
Senior Justin Gaumer set new personal records in both the shot put and discus. Junior Derek Sievers did so in the discus, while redshirt freshman Stephen Sykes continued to improve on the high jump with his own personal record.
Elsewhere, senior Erick Gavin ran the 110-meter hurdles in 14.30 seconds, narrowly missing the personal record he set a year ago. He finished second among collegiate competitors, fourth overall.
With the Big Ten Outdoor Championships just three weeks away, several competitors got some extra experience on one coast or the other. There’s no guarantee that those results will be replicated in three weeks, but an historic event presented a new opportunity. And the Wolverines took advantage of it.