Jan. 24, 2014
For immediate release

Olympian from Jesuit loved to finish strong

(Last in a series highlighting the eight members of the Sacramento Running Association’s 2014 Hall of Fame class. Today: Michael Stember)

The kid from Fair Oaks loved to kick, to shift into another gear and fly past the competition when it mattered most.

Michael Stember did it at Jesuit High School, winning the state 1,600-meter title in 1995 and 1996 after finishing second in 1994 to future Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi.

He did it at Stanford, teaming with Gabe Jennings to lead the Cardinal to the NCAA Outdoor title in 2000.

And he did it at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento, storming home from well back to finish third in the 1,500 meters and set himself up for a trip to the Olympic Games in Sydney.

Stember’s accomplishments earned him a spot in the Sacramento Running Association’s Hall of Fame. He will be inducted at a dinner on Saturday night at the Sheraton Grand Hotel with the other members of the class of 2014: Al Baeta, Lindsay Hyatt Barr, Patti Gray Bellan, Harold Kuphaldt, Heike Skaden Mansoor, John Mansoor and Tim Twietmeyer.

The 2014 honorees join the inaugural SRA Hall of Fame class inducted last year: Rae Clark, Eileen Claugus, Chris Iwahashi, Helen Klein, Billy Mills, Paul Reese, Dennis Rinde and Linda Somers Smith.

The SRA will also present its Annual Achievement Awards, including Athlete of the Year to Shadrack Biwott.

Tickets for the 6 p.m. dinner are $50 and can be obtained at www.runsra.org.

“It’s an extreme honor to have Sacramento celebrate the moments I worked really, really hard for,” said Stember, now 35 and living in Los Angeles. “It’s one of the best cities in the world to grow up in.

“This is one of the reasons why. They don’t forget about you.

“It’s just so special.”

But great moments don’t always start out so well.

During the 1,500-meter final in the 2000 Olympic Trials, with an Olympic berth within reach, Stember found his mind turning negative.

“The one thing that stood out was the negative voices in my head,” he said. “Doubt percolated in my head. I had to find a way to collect myself.”

With 175 meters to go, and several runners between Stember and his Olympic dream, tranquility paid a visit.

“I saw Seneca Lassiter struggling, his neck tensing up,” Stember said of one of his rivals. “At that moment the one thing I recognized is I could calm down. I told myself, ‘Michael, calm down, Michael, calm down.’”

He did, touching off a roar through a packed Hornet Stadium as he surged past several runners to finish third in 3:37.04.

“It was my home; it was just so awesome,” Stember said. “The crowd helped tremendously.”

Stember still needed to obtain the Olympic ‘A’ qualifying standard of 3:36.80, which he did in Monaco with a 3:35.11 effort that sealed his trip to Sydney.

And, yes, he needed a kick to get there.

“I was in 17th place with two laps to go,” said Stember, who attained the standard with six days to spare. “I was literally in my own race. I started picking off a couple guys, finished sixth.

“I didn’t know right away … Then I saw an ESPN crew come running over. I started crying right there.”

Stember marveled at the intensity of the Olympic Games, where he advanced to the semifinals before finishing a non-qualifying ninth.

“There wasn’t a drop at all in energy,” he said. “Everybody was so on edge. It was palpable. It created so much tension.”

Stember said he enjoyed watching other Olympic events with Stanford pal Chelsea Clinton.

“Here I am from Sacramento at the Olympic Games sitting next to the president’s daughter having the time of my life,” he said. “It was amazing.”

Stember’s career was amazing at Jesuit, where he ran for Walt Lange and embraced his true potential as a runner when he quit basketball to focus on his best sport.

He won a national junior championship in the 1,500 in 1995 and the National Scholastic Championships 1,600 title in 1996.

What really stood out, though, was his 4:04.00 effort to win his second state title in the 1,600. Stember decided the night before he would kick with 600 meters to go, and he did, stunning the field and holding on to win easily.

“For me it was a feeling kind of like I’m going to grow up and test these meets and go for it,” he said.

Stember’s Stanford career included setting school records in the 800 and 1,500 and earning All-America honors 10 times. His second-place finish in the 1,500 (3:39.53) and fourth-place finish in the 800 (1:46.20) gave the Cardinal 13 points to help claim the NCAA Outdoor national title.

He also ran a 3:58.57 indoor mile in 1999 as a collegian.

After his Olympic experience, Stember finished second in the 1,500 meters at the 2003 Pan American Games (3:46.31) and won the 800 meters in the 2004 USA Indoor Championships (1:48.08).

Stember worked in real estate and solar energy before returning to a long-time passion: food. He’s working on a supper club concept featuring sushi.

“It’s been a ton of fun,” he said. “This career is exciting.”

So was watching him run.

The Sacramento Running Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.