"You have to adjust with each steeple. It's like a life thing. Same thing with the 400 hurdles. There's going to be barriers in your way. You just have to get through it." -- Jibril Syed
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By Kyle Deeken - MileSplitUSA Contributor
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In track and field, there is often a distinction between those who excel in the sprints and those who excel in distance. Very rarely do you see athletes compete at a high level in polar opposite disciplines.
For instance, have you ever seen an athlete earn All-American honors in the 400 meter hurdles and then do the same in the 2,000 meter steeplechase the next day?
Because this week, Motor City Track Club's Jibril Syed, in his first year with the Detroit-based club, earned a rare feat when he achieved both distinctions at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Syed's story is one that starts from young beginnings, like so many others before him. It started three years ago, during his freshman year in 2016 at Auburn Hills Avondale High School.
His promise began while working with his father, Jameel, though the lightbulb may have gone off when Shelby Johnson had an idea. According to Jameel, Johnson, the Avondale High School coach, was the first one to realize the hurdling potential in Jibril.
"If it wasn't for coach Johnson," Jameel said, "Jibril probably wouldn't be hurdling right now."
A middle distance runner in his hey-day, Jameel had been working with Jibril from the very beginning, coaching him in the 400 meters, 400 meter hurdles, 800 meters, and contributing some knowledge in the steeplechase.
But once Jibril joined the Motor City Track Club, something else began to happen. Robert Lynch began to train him for the 400 Meter hurdles.
Lynch was the man around Detroit who had decades of experience training young boys to become young men in track and field. He's a guru to many in Michigan. But in the case of Jibril, Lynch also had an Ace in his pocket: Olympic trials qualifier and former national record holder Zachary Ornelas was training and coaching with the club, too.
Ornelas was the one who noticed Jibril's potential in the steeplechase in 2018. And in a year, the duo have been working together to achieve new career bests and chase after records.
But like most other stories, things didn't come easy. After a promising indoor season that saw Jibril post an open 400 meter best of 52.11, he incurred a Grade 1 hip flexor strain early in the outdoor season. Right before a pivotal recruiting period.
"He knew his junior year was the big year, so missing that time just really hit him hard," said Jameel.
This summer, he joined the Motor City Track Club and embraced the coaching of Lynch. The goal was to get back what he lost in the spring.
Monday was the preliminaries of the 400 meter hurdles. Seeded 21st heading into the race, no one expected -- or at least guaranteed -- Jibril to reach the finals
"I didn't film his 400 meter hurdle prelim on Tuesday," Jameel said. "I usually do, but I thought it might be his last ever hurdle race so I wanted to see it with my own eyes."
But then Jibril shocked everyone close to him and won his heat in a new personal best of 53.82. It was 4.5 seconds ahead of where he had started the summer season and 1.7 seconds off of his lifetime open 400 best. He would go on to finish seventh in finals.
But he wasn't done.
The 2,000 meter steeplechase was up on Wednesday.
Syed's range and hurdle prowess -- he was a 1:59.87 runner in the 800m and had a 16:44 5K PR -- had him set up to attack the steeplechase. He was the second seed.
But while he didn't win, Jibril was able to finish in fifth in 6:37.44, about five seconds off of his 6:32.06 best. It was his second All-American performance in three days.
"It was definitely a challenge with it being my third day out here," Jibril remarked. "I knew I needed to come out and do what I do best...finish my season out on a high note. I got top eight, so I'm happy about it."
"[I'm learning] you have to adjust with each steeple. It's like a life thing. ...Same thing with the 400 hurdles," he continued. There's going to be barriers in your way. You just have to get through it."
Two All-American finishes after a season in which he hardly raced?
It's a feat rarely ever completed at the AAU Junior Olympic Games.
The way stories go nowadays, colleges shouldn't be far behind. Jibril is preparing to build up his base mileage throughout the fall while forgoing the cross country season.
He has his sights on a breakout indoor season, and then, using these results from this summer, well, it's hard to argue that a breakout year is not on the horizon.