Stember to be coached by Pat Connolly

Stember takes a big step in search of redemption
Attempting to resurrect his running carreer, he will be coached by a former Olympian.
By John Schumacher – Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, October 31, 2004

Michael Stember flew across the country recently to Washington, D.C., then drove four hours southwest to get into a kayak for the first time.
When he reached a large, calm area of the New River near Roanoke, Va., he stopped, faced the woman in the other kayak and poured out his running soul.

Pat Connolly listened. And when the two were done talking, Stember felt the uncertainty vanish, replaced by an energy that could mean only one thing.

There’s more running to do.

Stember, 26, thought it might be time to pursue his culinary interests by working on a cookbook, starting a cooking show or opening a restaurant. But his immediate plan calls for training here with Connolly and pursuing a full-time job in real estate.

The former Jesuit High School and Stanford star doesn’t want to look back and wonder if he could have done more. His storybook finish at the 2000 Trials and subsequent trip to the Olympics were great. But that flameout at the 2004 Trials was no way to call it a career.

So he sought the advice of Connolly, a former Olympian in the 800 meters and pentathlon. Connolly coached Evelyn Ashford to a gold medal in the 100 meters at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and guided Allyson Felix to an Olympic silver medal in the 200 at Athens.

After that talk on the river, Stember concluded he had trained the same way for too long, running too many miles and too many races.

Now, he will try it the Connolly way, which means surrending control and trusting her, even if she calls for fewer miles and unorthodox workouts.

“I wasn’t sure if I was done or not,” said Stember, who was born in Carmichael and grew up in Fair Oaks. "It couldn’t have gone better. It motivated me more than I expected. It got my mind fresh. I haven’t really run a step yet.

“This is something I can’t pass up. I don’t think I can walk away just yet. I still feel like there’s unfinished business.”

Stember suspects overtraining led to his poor performance at the 2004 Trials. He looked strong in the first two rounds of the 1,500 meters before fading on the last lap of the final and finishing a disappointing 11th in 3:47.42, well off his season best of 3:37.75 and his personal record of 3:35.11.

He doesn’t fault Vin Lananna, his coach at Stanford, or Frank Gagliano, his coach the past few seasons. But he does blame the volume of work he did.

“Physically and mentally, I was just so burned out stacking so many seasons together, the same type of training,” he said. "A lot of people said I turned it on too much in the semis at the Trials (when he beat eventual winner Alan Webb). But I needed that confidence going into the finals.

“I went to Europe that week chasing the (Olympic) standard. I needed a good two rounds.”

Stember won the Front Street Mile in Maui with a 4:00 effort in September - his personal best is 3:59.20 - despite not having trained seriously for several weeks, an indication fresh legs can do wonders.

“It’s just frustrating not to have the pop in my legs that I have after so much rest,” he said. “I’m going to feel fresh again.”

Stember said Connolly plans to move from Virginia to the Sacramento area, which means he can live in his hometown again as he seeks to revive his running career.

“I’m excited about being here,” Stember said. “I’ve never been coached by an Olympian. It’s going to be an honor.”