UW Health Sports Medicine 

Past the pitfalls: Brill learns to love unforgiving steeplechase


May 10, 2013

UW Athletic Communications


or Alex Brill, it's all about perseverance and redemption. While the junior often competes in the 3000 and 5000 meters for the Wisconsin men's track and field team, the 3000-meter steeplechase is his best event.

The steeplechase is an event unique to track and field, requiring athletes to jump over barriers longer and higher than normal hurdles. The event includes a water jump that requires competitors to leap over a barrier and use it to propel themselves over a pit filled with water.

The event originated in the British Isles, as riders would race their horses from town to town, often jumping over streams and low stone walls.

Brill plans to draw on his maturity and experience to help the Badgers' efforts to win the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships this weekend in Columbus, Ohio. With a time of 8 minutes, 50.85 seconds, Brill has the fastest steeplechase mark in the conference entering the weekend.

A victory would give Wisconsin the Triple Crown, the product of winning conference titles in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track in the same academic year.

Incredibly, the Badgers have accomplished the feat eight times since 1995, although not since 2007. Brill hopes to win the steeplechase and improve Wisconsin's Triple Crown chances.

"Everyone on the team has the same idea: Triple Crown," Brill said. "It's all about getting those three Big Ten titles. It's something that is very rare for a program.

"That is my one goal this week. My job is to help win the Big Ten title by winning the steeplechase."

"I wasn't very good at first," Brill said of the steeplechase. "To make nationals as a freshman was a turning point."

It wasn't long ago that Brill was a newcomer to the event. Because the steeplechase is not universally included in high school competition around the country, Brill wasn't familiar with the race until he became a Badger. Entering his freshman year in 2010, assistant coach Mick Byrne told Brill he would compete in the 3000 steeplechase because he was tall and athletic.

Initially hesitant due to a lack of familiarity with the event, it took a little time for Brill to get comfortable running the steeplechase.

"I wasn't very good at first," he said. "I was awful over the water jumps, I wasn't good at hurdling and I broke my wrist falling over one of the barriers during my first steeplechase."

Brill said the biggest piece of advice he received as a freshman came from Byrne. He told Brill not to be afraid and that fear was not an option. If he ran scared, he would get hurt.

Brill chose to redshirt the season and, with continued practice, quickly became a natural in the event. He became passionate about the steeplechase, was excited to go over the barriers and saw the water pit as an exciting obstacle in the race.

The Madison native had a breakout season in 2011. Competing with freshman eligibility, Brill finished seventh in the steeplechase at the Big Ten meet in 8:52.87. At the NCAA West Preliminary Round, he placed 11th in 8:52.23 and qualified for the NCAA championships. Looking back, Brill says that initial season gave him the confidence he has today.

"To make nationals as a freshman was a turning point for me," Brill said. "I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and I knew I could really compete in this event."

Unfortunately, Brill's sophomore season was not as consistent. Competing alongside an incredibly strong field of athletes at the Big Ten meet, Brill crossed the line in a career-best 8:37.62, breaking his previous record by almost 15 seconds. Brill finished fifth, but his time was the best mark among athletes in the West Region and earned him the top seed for the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round.

Brill qualified for the NCAA championships as a redshirt freshman and is looking to get back after falling short as a sophomore.

To his frustration, Brill did not run as well when the race came two weeks later in Austin, Texas. He finished in 20th in 9:02.18 and didn't qualify for the NCAA championships.

But Brill says this year will be different. As a junior, he draws confidence from the fact he has wide-ranging experience in the event, both positive and disappointing.

His goals are to win the Big Ten steeplechase and help Wisconsin claim the Triple Crown. He wants to qualify for the NCAA championships and finish in the top eight to earn All-America status. He also hopes to qualify for the U.S. championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

"I've been with the program for a few years now and I have to step up to the plate," he said. "These opportunities make champions who they are, and that is the number one goal, to be a champion.

"Being a year older, a year stronger, I have to have that confidence in myself and my training in order to perform at a high level."

Brill's motivation stems from his senior year at La Follette High School, when he won the 3200 meters at the 2009 Wisconsin state meet. He is also motivated each and every day when he represents Wisconsin by wearing the cardinal and white.

"Ever since I was a state champion in high school, I've wanted to stand on top of that podium again," he said. "It's something that's very rare in a sport like track and field because there are so many people competing and there are only a handful of champions."

Although Brill is motivated to perform well individually, team success takes priority.

"While it's sweet to be an individual champion, it is so much sweeter to be a team champion, to contribute to the team," he said. "I was born in Madison and grew up loving the Badgers. Now, to be a Badger, it's all about wearing that `W.'

"When we won (the Big Ten outdoor championship) last year, it was the best feeling in the world."

Come Sunday afternoon, Brill hopes to experience that feeling once again.

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