Enyaeva Michelin broke through to earn All-State recognition for the Evanston Township High School girls track program last spring in the 800-meter dash as one of the most improved runners in the state of Illinois.
Michelin hasn’t held back ever since then, and the ETHS senior-to-be scored another big breakthrough on Sunday at the United States of American Track and Field (USATF) Junior Olympics Nationals held in Lawrence, Kansas.
Michelin became just the third female runner in school history to capture a national track championship, ruling the 1500-meter run in a dizzying time of 4 minutes, 32.81 seconds to claim the gold medal. Only Hall of Fame hurdler Shalina Clarke, as a 12-year-old and an 18-year-old, and Jahnell Horton in the steeplechase in 2009, earned national titles in the long and prestigious history of the program.
Competing in the 17-18 year-old age group, Michelin blew away the finals field with a sizzling split of 47.92 seconds over the first 300 meters and won by eight full seconds over runnerup Madison Morasco. She finished in 4:32.81, just six seconds off the national record set by Cecilla Hopp of Connecticut back in 1981 (4:26.39).
And if you ask ETHS head coach Fenton Gunter, he’ll tell you the best is yet to come for the hard-working and focused Michelin.
“To have someone go out like that and win a national championship doesn’t happen too often,” Gunter pointed out. “We’ve had other girls who took different routes in the summer, who were All-Americans or finished second or third. But what Enyaeva did is something special. Everything fell into place for her out there. She ran faster in finals than she did in the prelims, and you always want to see that happen.
“When the girls let us do what we do as coaches and hang in there, they take themselves to that elite level. It started while she was working with coach Sibert (assistant coach Jesse Siebert) and quite worrying about what the other runners were doing and just focused on running her splits.
“I think that first 300 she ran (Sunday) killed half of the field, and she was still able to keep the heat on through the first 400. Then when she got to that third 400, she kept pressing the pedal and didn’t settle back like a lot of runners do.”
“It feels really great to win a national championship,” Michelin added. “Being able to run like that gives me a huge boost in my confidence. And being able to get in so many races that imitate State will really help me when I come back for my senior year (in both cross country and track). My goal was to run in the 4:20s, but I’m extremely happy and blessed just to win it.”
The Evanston standout posted the fastest prelim time (4:34.97) in only her fourth career attempt at a distance that is usually reserved for international competition. High school distance runners compete at 3200, 1600 and 800 meters.
And with the fastest half-miler in the nation — Samantha Watson of Rochester, N.Y. — opting not to compete at Kansas, the door was open to a gold medal for Michelin.
“She’s amazing, the fastest girl in the country, and to be honest winning it without running against her was a little bittersweet,” said Michelin. “She’s a phenom and I was really looking forward to running against her.
“I didn’t really know what to expect in the prelims Thursday. I didn’t hold back as much as I wanted to but my splits were pretty even (2:23 for the first 800). Then I switched my goal from just winning the race to more of a time situation. I was hoping to run in the 4:20s. I really wanted to break that 4:30 barrier.
“I heard the announcer say I came by the first 800 in 2:18 and that’s a little fast for me, even though it didn’t really feel that different. I should have paced it a little better than that. Running the 1500 is basically the same as running the 1600, although it does help you mentally that it’s 100 meters less. I run a lot better when I’m not surrounded by a ton of other runners, so I’ve taken a calculated risk and worked on getting to the front for all of my races now.”
That’s a race strategy that has paid off as developed by Michelin and guided by Sibert. At a meet earlier in July, Michelin raced to an 800 time of 2:11.47 that broke the ETHS school record of 2:12.2 set by Jahnell Horton in 2010.
Ironically, Michelin credited Horton’s younger sister — sophomore Gabby — for helping her to take another step toward the national title as a training partner this summer.
“Running with Gabby was really good for me as far as pushing myself,” she said. “She really helped me a lot. It’s very difficult as a distance runner when you run and train on your own, and she really challenged me a lot.
“This summer the two of us did some weight training and some core work on our own, and we incorporated a little more speed work into the end of every workout. That’s really made a huge difference for me.”
Horton joined Michelin, Jonathan Wilburn and Julion Michelin as national meet qualifiers, but only Enyaeva advanced to the finals. Wilburn’s best triple jump of 46 feet, 4.75 inches fell short in the 17-18 age group, while Julion Michelin (2:02.68 in the 800) and Horton (2:37.59 in the 800) didn’t make the finals cut in the 15-16 age group.
Sibert’s suggestion that Michelin compete in one more race — the Midwest Distance Classic — the week after she placed 7th at the Illinois High School Association state finals in the 800 helped lay the foundation for Michelin’s ongoing summer success.
“I was ready for a break at that point, after making All-State, but I’m really grateful that coach Sibert encouraged me to run at that meet,” Michelin said.
“Winning the 1600 there really helped me and it showed me that watching my diet and the work I had already put in was going to pay off. Now I’m just trying to take things to the next level.
“Winning this championship is a huge eye-opener for me. It will help me set my goals a little higher now for cross country and for track. I’ll keep trying to improve and see where it takes me.”
“Enyaeva has a chance to be a really good one,” Gunter praised. “She put in the time and the commitment, and when you do that and make that kind of investment, good things will happen. Her ceiling is very high.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.