Christopher Chung/Press Democrat
Santa Rosa’s Luca Mazzanti lined up for his third steeplechase run ever in the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Sacramento on Thursday night and finished in second place with a time of 5 minutes, 54.96 seconds - good enough for the third-fastest time in the 17-18 age group and the second-fastest time ever by a runner from California.
Mazzanti finished less than a second behind four-time champion Ben Ewert from Beavercreek, Ohio, in the final. Ewert and Mazzanti were almost 20 seconds ahead of the third-place finisher.
“To say that’s pretty good is a gigantic understatement,” said Mazzanti’s trainer, Carrie Joseph.
In the age 15-16 girls steeplechase final, Sonoma Academy sophomore-to-be Katie Bowen - the younger sister of noted distance runner Rylee Bowen - finished 10th. She finished her 2,000-meter race in 7 minutes, 44.26 seconds.
The steeplechase is a unique event in which runners have to hurdle high barriers and water pits throughout a 2,000-meter distance race.
“Luca is incredibly talented at everything he does and is a gifted athlete with elite-level coordination, which pairs great with the steeplechase,” said Joseph. “We call him ‘The Beast.’”
Mazzanti first caught a glimpse of the steeplechase during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and it piqued his interest. He then got to compete in an exhibition steeplechase before a meet at SRJC during his sophomore year.
“It’s different. It really breaks up the monotonous aspect of just running laps around the track,” said Mazzanti. “It attracts pretty crazy people and I like to experience weird stuff. It fits me.”
Before the race, Mazzanti had other barriers to overcome off the track.
The steeplechase is not a CIF-sanctioned event and Santa Rosa High School, where Mazzanti will be a senior this school year, does not have any water pits or steeple barriers.
Joseph and Mazzanti had to get creative with their training, including stacking hurdles together for make-shift steeple barriers, marking out different distances with leaves for jumps and traveling to the nearby SRJC to use the Bear Cubs’ training facility.
On top of all this, Mazzanti had a 100-mile backpacking trip scheduled 10 days out from the race that took away from his training schedule.
On race day, Mazzanti’s event was originally scheduled for 2 p.m. at Sacramento State. After weather concerns due to the high temperature, the race was postponed until 7 p.m. However, at 7 p.m. the temperature on the track was still 103 degrees, with no signs of cooling off.
Mazzanti had to check in every hour until runners were finally given the green light to race at 11 p.m.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going. The atmosphere was amazing,” said Mazzanti. “I was just really excited to race. It was nice to compete against the best.”
Mazzanti will only take a short break before heading to cross country camp next week to train with his Santa Rosa High teammates for his senior season.
Joseph expects that because of Mazzanti’s stellar time at the Junior Olympics, he will be invited to compete in high-profile steeplechases across the country over the next year.
For now, Mazzanti just hopes to be able to compete in the steeplechase during college.