Cliff Sheehan, Harvard's one-man team at the NCAA Track Championships at Syracuse Saturday, gained All-American recognition by finishing fifth in the 3000-meter race.
To qualify for the championship race Sheehan had to defeat, among others, the Olympic gold medalist in the 3000-meter steeplechase.
"The 3000 is the most competitive race," Sheehan said. "A lot of milers moved up to the 3000, because last year the 3000 was really weak." This year, however those milers had to run against a field of 32, "twice as many as most other events."
Facing such competition, Sheehan rose to the occasion, posting his best time ever, a Harvard record 8:01.7. to defeat the gold medalist in the heat on Friday, then bettered that time with a new school record 8:01.5 in the final Saturday.
Sheehan performed this feat, despite feeling fatigue from the earlier races at what is, for him an unusually long distance.
"I was somewhat tired from the trials before," Sheehan said, "I hadn't been training for the 3000, but I just hadn't qualified for the mile. I ran just to win the mile races. The pace went out very quickly I couldn't keep up."
Sheehan was the sole member of the Harvard team to qualify for the indoor championships. This is not unusual, Sheehan said. "We usually only qualify one or two."
At the outdoor championships, sheehan expects several Harvard runners to join him including Captain Steve Ezeji-Okoye and distance runner Paul Gompers. "It's good to have the support of your teammmates."
The All-American sees himself not as a distance runner, however, but as a miler. "I enjoy the 800 and the mile more than the 3000. You end the race faster."
Sheehan downplayed the performance that won him his All-America honors, saying "The distance runners were trying to peak for the outdoor season. My win at the IC4As was my best race. The time wasn't really good. It was a tactical race. I expected someone to make a break for it, but no one started to kick until the final straightaway. I just accelerated faster than they did."
The NCAAs were the finale of what Sheehan described as "his best season" of his three at Harvard. He gave a hint of things to come this season at the Heptagonals at Dartmouth February 23 and 24, where he triumphed in the 1500 meters in 3:47 and placed second in the 3000 meters in 8:06, earning Athletic of the Meet honors.
Now, Sheehan is thinking of even greater challenges. After having taken one semester off to train for the Olympic trials in the mile his sophomore year, the first semester senior is planning to make a serious run for Seoul in 1988.
"I'm considering running for two years after graduation to train for the Olympic trials [in the mile]. I'm pretty sure I'd make the trials and I think I'd have a good chance of making the Olympics."
Considering that he missed qualifying for the 1984 trials by just 1.4 seconds, perhaps Cliff Sheehan may yet run for the gold against the best in the world.