Amber Thompson, a sophomore at Mount Olive College, has high hopes that she will be among the steeplechase runners participating in the NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships held in Pueblo, Colorado in late May.
A 2010 graduate of Radford High School, Thompson explains there are two ways to qualify for the NCAA. One would be to beat her Mount Olive College record setting in her last meet before the conference championships. Another avenue would be to get selected by the NCAA in the upper division of the steeplechase.
Thompson came within 1.76 seconds of qualifying for the NCAA when she helped the Mount Olive Trojans, a Division II school, finish fifth out of 21 teams at the Dr. Jack M. Toms Women’s Track and Field Open meet held at Lynchburg College in March.
Thompson won the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 11:11.76. Not only did that time break the school record, it was also one of the best times in the event.
Thompson said to qualify for the NCAA she would need to be in the top division of the steeplechase.
“There’s an A-Division and B-Division. Right now my time is good enough for the B-Team. I think I would need to run 11 (minutes) flat to qualify for the A-Division. If there are not enough runners to qualify for the A-Division, NCAA officials will pull up the top runners from the B-Division,” said Thompson.
Thompson’s old record (MCO) in the steeplechase was a school-best 12:21.97 and it was the second best record in the 12-team Conference Carolinas.
The steeplechase is an obstacle race in athletics, which derives its name from horse racing event. It originated in the British Isles where runners raced from one town’s steeple to the next. The steeples were used as markers due to their visibility over long distances. Along the way runners inevitably had to jump streams and low stone walls separating estates.
The modern athletics event originates from a two-mile cross-country steeplechase that formed part of the Oxford University sports in 1860. It was replaced five years later by what is now known as the modern steeplechase in which runners ran over barriers on a flat field.
Since the 1968 Summer Olympics the steeplechase has been dominated by Kenyan athletics.
The first person to run the steeplechase in under eight minutes was Moses Kiptaniu of Kenya in 1995.
Gulnana Galkina-Samitova of Russia holds the official world record in the 3000m steeplechase for women at 8:58.81 at the 2008 Olympics. She is the only woman to have run it under nine minutes.
Thompson’s spring season began in early March at High Point University’s VertKlasse Meet. Thompson placed seventh in the 1,500 meters (4:56.20) to get ready for the steeplechase.
Thompson followed her efforts at HPU by participating in the Raleigh Relays hosted by N.C.State at the end of March.
“ I think the meet at N .C. State had more competition and a lot more schools that any of the other meets I have been to this season. That by far was the toughest meet I have had this spring,” said Thompson.
During the meet at N.C. State, Thompson recorded a time of 11:34.05 in the 3,000 meter steeplechase marking the second time she broke the 12-minute mark this season. Earlier, Thompson posted a time of 11:19.96 to break her own school record by nearly 50 seconds.
During the first week of April, at the Duke Invitational in Durham, N.C. Thompson took ninth in her section of the 5,000 meters in a time of 18:30.07.
Thompson said when she first arrived at Mount Olive, the track and field coaches asked her to compete in the steeplechase.
“At first I was scared. There are 35 jumps in this event and five of them have water pits. I thought for sure I would fall in every water pit on the course and break my face. In fact, I did just that. I fell, I picked myself up, laughed (at my fear) and decided I could do this,” said Thompson.
“ Now, I love running a steeplechase event and representing Mount Olive College anyway I can,” said Thompson.
“You know it takes a highly motivate person to run the steeplechase,” said retired track and field coach Norman Lineburg of Radford High. “You will find that you are on your own when it comes to running long distances. There’s nobody there to cheer you on when you run. I know there are a lot of people in this area that follow this young lady and they are proud of her accomplishments.”
Before the outdoor season began, Thompson was one of 140 Mount Olive College student-athletes representing 13 different sports named to the Fall 2011 Conference Carolinas Presidential Honor Roll.
The Presidential Honor Roll recognizes student-athletes who have earned at least a 3.20 grade point average during the fall semester.
During halftime of Mount Olive men’s basketball game vs. Queens on January 25, the college honored the Presidential Honor Roll student-athletes. Along with this honor, Thompson was also recognized for earning a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
Thompson ended the 2011 season running at the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Cross Country Meet in Charlotte held last November. She was one of three Mount Olive runners to place in the Top 25 to earn All Region honors. She placed 13th with a time of 22:44.9.
Thompson, a Biology major, was an outstanding runner at Radford High. During her prep career, Thompson was a state cross country qualifier for three years and was a state track and field qualifier for four years.
Now she’s running for the Trojans and finding the steeplechase something she enjoys.
“My plans are to run the steeplechase here at MOC and to get my degree. Then I plan to go to physical therapy school. I don’t know where that will be.”
Thompson is the daughter of James and Tabitha Thompson of Radford.