Marcelo Burbano plans to go the distance for Lane at state

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Marcelo Burbano isn’t the kind of athlete to argue with his coach.

“He’s always been a team guy,” Lane coach Kris Roof said of his senior star.

But there is one thing Burbano and Roof do not see eye to eye on: the steeplechase. One of track and field’s oddball events, it combines distance running and the hurdles. It’s rarely contested below the college level, partly because few high school tracks are equipped with the required water pit.

But it’s in Burbano’s future, as he plans to compete in the event for Illinois State University. Though he’s run it less than a handful of times, Burbano has had some success — he won the event at the Midwest Distance Festival last year— and has fallen in love with it.

“It feels like it’s a real test of endurance and strength,” said Burbano, who also ran a steeplechase on a trip to Australia when he was a freshman. “You can’t go in it and [just] hope for the best.”

Roof knows his way around the event, having run it at DePaul, and likes Burbano’s upside.

“He’s a natural steepler,” Roof said. “He just keeps getting taller.”

As it happens, Lane’s track is capable of hosting a steeplechase race. But don’t expect Burbano to be running one competitively, or even for fun, anytime soon. He is way too important to Lane’s plans for this season to allow that kind of experimenting.

“I won’t let him practice [the steeplechase] before state because of [the risk of] injury,” Roof said.

Burbano isn’t one to take no for an answer, though in this case he doesn’t appear to have a choice.

“I’ve been trying to pressure my coach the whole year,” he said. “‘Come on, throw me in the 300 hurdles for city prelims.'”

What you can expect to see Burbano running are the open distance races (1,600 and 3,200 meters) and probably the 3,200 relay. The latter was very good for him last spring, when he teamed with then-seniors Kevin Perez, David Timlin and Lucas Beltran to win the event at the IHSA Class 3A state finals.

It was Lane’s first relay state title since 1974 and marked the Public League’s first championship in the event or its predecessor, the two-mile relay.

“All my friends were graduating and I didn’t want to let them down,” Burbano said.

Now he’s the veteran and Roof is trying to put together another good distance relay. There is some potential — sophomore Pavlo Hutsalyuk ran a  1:58.82 800 indoors. But, Roof said, “we’re definitely not putting a lot of pressure on the guys because they’re young.”

Meanwhile, Burbano is also training for the metric mile and two-mile.

“If state was next week, we’d probably do the [3,200 relay] and the mile,” Roof said. “I kind of think of the mile as his bread and butter.”

Burbano says he’s hoping to run the 1,600 and 3,200 in the state series. But he wouldn’t mind catching lightning in a bottle again in the relay. That unit ran an 8:17.45 to win the Public League title and didn’t break eight minutes till the sectional. Then at state, Lane ran 7:46.92 in the prelims — the 40th-best time in the country in 2013 — and 7:47.42 in the final.

“If you had asked us three weeks before that race if we thought we had a shot at winning [state], we’d say, ‘Hell, no,'” Burbano said.

But they did. So now Burbano is a defending state champ — and, for now, just an aspiring steeplechaser.

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