June 6, 2017
By Steve Kornacki
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Steven Bastien had just completed what many consider the most grueling test in athletic competition at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships. The University of Michigan senior had won the 10th and final event in the decathlon by blowing away the field in the 1,500-meter run.
Bastien churned his arms as he reached the finish line in State College, Pennsylvania. Then he staggered slightly before turning to peer down the inside lane at the other competitors just beginning to come around the final turn. He was exhausted, body heaving deep breaths, while he bent over to put his hands on his knees.
Then he dropped to the ground in lane two, a few yards behind the finish line, and sat down, leaning back on both hands. After a few seconds, Bastien clapped his hands over his head while kicking his legs back over his head.
He realized he'd just won the event by doing what was necessary to make up the 137 points he trailed Nebraska's Cody Walton by entering the 1,500. He left the competition in his wake, winning by nearly 40 seconds in 4:36.01.
Rafter Johnson, the 1960 Olympic decathlon gold medalist, once said: "The whole decathlon is ridiculous, but the 1,500 meters is insanity."
Boy, is it.
Decathletes complete four runs: 100 meters, 110-meter hurdles, 400 meters and the 1,500. They throw the shot put, javelin and discus. As if that weren't enough, they high jump and long jump and throw in the pole vault to heighten the degree of difficulty during two days of competition.
They finish their quest by running nearly one mile around a track, and I asked Bastien how he mustered the kick required to win with 7,713 points and a 94-point margin of victory back on May 13.
"As soon as I took my last throw in the javelin, my coaches had figured out how much I needed to beat Cody by," said Bastien, whose 183-foot, 4-inch javelin throw was a personal best. "They said I had to beat him by 20 seconds, and (assistant) coach (Kevin) Sullivan helped with the pacing. I didn't run quite as fast as I was trying to, but I did enough. It worked out."
Bastien finished second as a silver medalist in the 2016 Big Ten Outdoor Championships, scoring 7,636 points. He upped that 77 points and took gold.
"Just getting older and a little bit stronger is the biggest thing that helped me," Bastien said of his improvement. "And just getting more experience in events, doing more reps with my coach."
Wolverine men's track and field head coach Jerry Clayton also works individually with Bastien, who won four events by also finishing first in the 100 meters, 400 meters and pole vault.
"The biggest impact from Coach (Clayton) is that I've realized how different events relate to one another," said Bastien. "For instance, I'm a pretty good long jumper. That's one of my better events. And when we work on the javelin, he'll compare the finish of the javelin on the runway being similar to the long jump because you can't slow down.
"He knows so much, and he shares his knowledge with me."
Bastien scored a personal-best 7,917 points to finish eighth at last year's NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon. He returns to that national event Thursday (June 8).
"I can't control what everyone else does," said Bastien, an All-American based on last year's finish, "and the field is pretty deep. But it would be cool to be a first-team All-American and get the 'A' standard with an 8,100 score. But if I broke 7,900 or 8,000, I'd be real happy with that."
That score last year enabled Steven to surpass the career-best 7,844 by his father, Gary, an All-American himself who competed for Eastern Michigan (1977-80) and qualified for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials.
"It was just a funny thing for us," said Steven, who finished 12th at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. "It was like, 'I finally got you.' But the tables and implements have changed since then, and the poles are more high-tech now. But it was a cool little thing for us, me scoring more than my dad."
The Bastiens hold the father-son decathlon record with 15,761 points, and Gary has been driving Steven's pole vault pole across the country for years.
The father coached the son in the 10 events while he was growing up in Saline. They'd drive several miles up the road to work out on the track at the University of Michigan's historic Ferry Field, and many days Steven would be working on track and field events with Drake Johnson, the former Wolverines running back and sprinter who was also being coached by his dad.
So, Steven had a solid base in the decathlon years before most athletes even consider participating in it.
Sweden's King Gustav V proclaimed Jim Thorpe the "world's greatest athlete" upon winning the decathlon gold medal in the 1912 Stockholm Games, and that title has traditionally been attached to Olympic champions ever since. Becoming proficient in so many athletic skills is what appealed to Bastien from the start.
He became just the second Wolverine to win the Big Ten decathlon championship, joining Frank Shotwell, the winner in 2008.
"That's pretty awesome," Bastien said. "To be part of Michigan's history like that is definitely an honor, and it's amazing to me."
Bastien transferred to Michigan from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, for his final two college seasons, and I asked what he most treasured about his experience here.
"It was just the opportunity to compete for Michigan," said Bastien. "I grew up in Saline, going to football games as a little kid. So, having success here is the biggest thing I will take away from the experience.
"Just being able to come here and experience what I've experienced with my coaches and teammates is special."
Bastien's favorite Michigan football heroes were Braylon Edwards ("I was at the triple-overtime win over Michigan State."), Chris Perry and Jason Avant.
"I actually talked to Braylon Edwards on Instagram a couple of times," said Bastien of the All-America receiver who returned this year to complete his degree. "I saw him on campus one time but didn't bother him. He seemed to be blending in pretty well, and so I didn't say anything."
Bastien, a sociology major, recently was named to the Academic All-Big Ten team.
"I want to go into something involving sports," said Bastien. "I'm not positive yet, but maybe coaching or the medical side of it. I might try to go to PT (physical therapy) school and work with athletes that way. I understand the body pretty well and enjoy helping people achieve their goals."
Bastien has accomplished plenty at Michigan, becoming, to paraphrase King Gustav V, the Big Ten's greatest athlete.