Michel's Mathematical Approach

By Siobhan Cavan

Claire Michel is a fifth year senior at Oregon, steeplechase runner and an artist in the kitchen. Right-brained and imaginative, she "invents recipes," cooks with passion and throws measurements out the window.

"I put in whatever seems right or whatever feels right. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not good," she says.

But Michel's creativity with food is balanced by a strong sense of left-brained reasoning and structure on the track.

Describing herself as a logical thinker, Michel figured out how to get the best out of her steeplechase performance early on.

"Freshman and sophomore year I started looking at it as kind of a mathematical approach," she says. "I mean if you look at the whole 6k at once, it can be a little overwhelming and you can get a bit negative. [If you take it] mile by mile at a time, then here's roughly where I am, here's how many girls I need to catch, so I can just divide that."

Mathematics during a race? For Michel, this is all part of the game plan.

"I know that in a kilometer I should have caught at least five more, and by the next kilometer I should catch another four," she says. "I just kind of gauge it and it helps me if I look at it just in a numeric sense. If I know what I need to do, [then] there are no other options."

It can be said that Michel's list of achievements stretches longer than most. Her college career collectively includes, but is not limited to, a District 8 and Pac-10 all-academic first-team selection, a 12th-place Pac-10 finish, four-time Pac-10 scorer in the steeplechase, a 2010 Pac-10 steeplechase winner, followed by a runner-up in 2011.

Last year, Michel broke her own school record in the steeplechase three times, was the Pac-10 steeplechase runner-up and scored at the NCAA Championship. Statistically and athletically, Michel is another product of success from Oregon's high-achieving track and field team.

Michel graduated from the University of Oregon this past spring with a double major in romance languages and international business, with a minor in business. Not one to be complacent in her studies, she currently is finishing up her last term at the University of Oregon as a postbaccalaureate undergrad in political science. This extended period of study allows her to complete her final term of eligibility as a Duck for her last quarter.

But the excitement is not about to be over for Michel. The end of a thrilling college career is followed by the purchase of a one-way ticket to Belgium leaving on December 14.

Currently studying to take the GMAT to complete an MBA in business administration, Michel plans "to work a couple years after this, [and] I was fortunate actually to get some NCAA and Pac-12 scholarships to go to grad school, so that's to be used within 3 years," she says.

Michel is one of those people who define the term 'worldly'. A Belgium native who grew up in Portland, she speaks three languages, is learning a fourth, and has a family who loves to travel. The year-end will see her chasing her dreams and joining her father, who is currently based in Belgium, which is a big part of her future plans.

"I'm excited, […] I want to do one more season of track and compete for Belgium [in the Olympics]."

For some, this may be a goal out of reach, but Michel is interested to see how far she can climb. "I think that it's kind of a big lofty goal, but I wanted to see if I could at least get close to that Olympic standard, in the steeplechase, the 3000m […] so maybe do one more season of track and see what happens there, then work abroad, and then go to grad school abroad, and then see where life takes me."

Despite foreign roots, Michel grew up in Portland, went to Clackamas High School and used her childhood to dabble in many different sports before settling on running.

"I kind of came from a swimming background. I mean, just like all kids, you do a lot of different sports, and then in high school a friend of mine told me to try cross country, and I did and I liked it, and the rest is history, so to speak."

It wasn't until college that this steeplechase guru really found her calling, which can be blamed a little on her natural affliction to distance running and a little on chance.

"When I got to college, I [didn't have] enough beef for the 1500m, and we had lots of girls already in the 5k, so the 3k steeple just became a natural fit."

The change from running to the combination of running while hurdling the steeple was something that Michel embraced. "It was a big learning curve because of the steeple, but it's an interesting event and I really like it because there's a lot of room […] for improvement in technique. With 35 barriers over the whole race you can fix your regular hurdling form to be more efficient."

Looking back on her personal athletic achievements, Michel's heart is drawn to her years as an upperclassman.

"I think that probably winning Pac10's was the highlight for me and [also] NCAAs was a good accomplishment for me as well, in the steeplechase in my senior year," she says. But surprisingly, these are not her most exhilarating memories.

"To me, those are good personal achievements, but what's more cool […], more exciting I should say, is when you see the people on your team, especially Pac-10 teams […] scrapping for the last point," she says. "The year that I won it, it was cool that I won, but it was even cooler turning around and seeing my teammate passing two girls down the final straight away to 8th. You know it's the little points that make the big difference [for the team win]."

With her final season underway, Michel refers back to the team atmosphere and strong sense of camaraderie that the Ducks have, and explains how they will be using this as an advantage against their opponents in the next weeks.

"This year, more than any other year, is the year [that] if we win, it will be a team effort," Michel says. "In years past we've had a couple stars or stand outs, but this year we have a really tight pack, and if we run as a group we can win. It's a special thing and I hope we click."

Michel and the Ducks have an exciting time ahead of them if everything goes to plan.

"We've got [the Pac-12 Championships] and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves but there's regionals after that that will be really tough competition. The top two [teams] only will qualify for nationals [and] we keep nationals in mind but we don't bypass that you need to qualify, so we're taking things one step at a time right now."

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