At this time last year, the track world became very familiar with what local followers of sport already knew. Just two years into its existence, the Travelers Rest-based Furman Elite professional running program has developed into a distance powerhouse, worthy of mention alongside training teams from other corners of the country. The primary focus of the program “is to provide continuing support to America’s best distance prospects” in their competitive careers at the national and international levels. The elite team has made huge strides in their pursuit of the latter. In 2013, Cory Leslie was the second fastest American in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. In all, five runners from Furman Elite have gone under sub-four in the mile. Some on multiple occasions.
At the 2013 Championships, Furman Elite’s Nicole Bush took an early lead in the women’s 3000 meter steeplechase and pushed the pace all the way to securing her first national title in a time of 9:44.53. Bush- a New Balance sponsored athlete- looked to duplicate that performance at this year’s championship meet by using the same aggressive tactics that sent her overseas to compete globally in 2013. Her performances on the track this year hinted that back-to-back national title was certainly on the table. During the indoor season, Bush set personal records in the one mile and 2000 meter races. In May, she brought her 5000m PR down to 15:31.43, and one month later Bush achieved a new individual best in the 3000 meter steeple chase with a 9:34.76 clocking in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
But on Saturday at this year's USATF Outdoor Championships, Bush and the rest of the fourteen women field could not respond to eventual champion Emma Coburn, who broke away at the halfway point to power through the seven and a half lap race in a meet record 9:19.72. Bush wound up finishing 8th in 9:48.08, but her Furman Elite teammate Stephanie Garcia maintained a strong finishing kick to place 3rd in 9:32.76. Garcia made the Upstate her new training base last year, and since the start of indoor season in early February has improved her personal best at five distances from the mile to 5000 meters. She was an ACC Champion in the 3000 meters in 2008 and 2011 while attending the University of Virginia. Garcia competed for the United States in Daegu, Korea in the 2011 IAAF World Championships.
There is little secret to why the training team has attracted a number of top echelon steeplechasers to the Greenville area. Furman Elite is coached by Robert Gary, who represented the U.S. in the 1996 Atlanta and 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games as a steeplechaser.
The conditions were far from ideal over the weekend in northern California where the meet was held at Sacramento State University. Swirling winds periodically affected runners as they made their turns around the track. Several performances in the sprints and field events were bolstered by the strong tailwinds that swooshed into Hornet Stadium. As the meet progressed on Sunday, a punishing heat wave brought track time temperatures well into the triple digits. At one point in the NBC telecast, sideline reporter Lewis Johnson demonstrated how sweltering the track surface became by displaying a half-cooked egg yolk that had been sitting under the sun for the previous two hours.
Three athletes competed in the first preliminary heat of the men’s 1500 meters on Thursday evening, but did not advance to Saturday’s final. Jack Bolas made a third lap push with a tough lead group that featured 3:53 miler Garrett Heath. Bolas finished 9th in 3:46.33 with Rob Finnerty (10th in 3:46.76) and Michael Hammond (12th, 3:47.52) just meters behind him.
In the men’s 3000 meter steeplechase final on Sunday, the Furman Elite duo of Craig Forys and Cory Leslie dictated the pace early, going out in front for the opening laps. Leslie kept up with a pack of four lead runners going into the bell lap. Evan Jager threw the hammer down in under 60 seconds for the final 400 meters to secure his second consecutive national title in the event (8:18.83). Leslie came home in 4th (8:26.30) with Forys following in behind him in 8:37.06 to claim 6th place.