An Olympic Furst?
June 24, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. – For the last year, former NC State All-American and ACC-champion distance runner Stephen Furst has had the luxury of using a national training center in his quest to make the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team.
He’s had a world-class indoor track, an indoor pool and an unrivaled trail system just steps away from his athletic dormitory. He’s trained with some of the world’s top athletes in the sports of track and field, triathlon, rowing and, of all things, badminton.
Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center?
Nope, Furst has spent the last year traveling back and forth from Raleigh to Saarbruecken, Germany, the site of the Badminton World Training Center and the Saarland Olympic Training Center. He’s had his own private room, with access to top-notch facilities, sports medicine labs and dining facilities, to use in his preparation for his race Monday in the preliminaries of the men’s 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore.
Furst, who won both the 2008 ACC men’s 5,000-meters and 10,000-meter races, will run with Wolfpack junior Ryan Hill, looking to advance to Thursday’s finals. His former teammate, Julia Lucas, also will run in the women’s 5,000-meter preliminaries. The top three finishers in the finals of both events will represent the United States at the London Olympic Games in July.
Furst, who has served as a volunteer assistant with the Wolfpack for the last four seasons, was lured to Germany not by the athletics training facilities, but by the academic opportunities that awaited him under former NC State associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Stefan Seelecke.
Seelecke, a native of Germany, left his position in Raleigh last year to build and run his own lab at Saarland University. He included Furst, one of his prized pupils at NC State, in his discussions for the job, negotiating with the university a room in the training center.
So in addition to working on his doctoral thesis – “Design Fabrication and Control Methods for Exploring the Multifunctional Sensor and Actuating Capabilities of Shape Memory Alloy Wires” – Furst was able to continue pursuing his Olympic dream. He returns to Germany in August for a 90-minute defense of his thesis, which might be as nerve-wracking Monday’s 5,000-meter preliminary.
It’s been an amazing journey for a former walk-on from Goshen, N.Y., who veteran head coach Rollie Geiger regularly referred to as “Stephen Last” until the 2008 track season. The coach promised to call him that until he won a race, which Furst did when he became only the third runner in NC State history to win both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races in the same ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championship meet in 2008. He followed that up with a win in the 5,000 meters at the prestigious Penn Relays.
His Wolfpack athletic career included twice being named to the All-ACC cross country team and earning All-America honors at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He has steadily improved during his postcollegiate career, earning multiple trips to the US Outdoor Track and Field Championships and spots on the U.S. national teams for the Pan American Games in Mexico and the World Cross Country Challenge in Scotland.
Though he was the son of a high school track coach, there was never any doubt that Furst has always been academics first. His 3.85 grade point average in aerospace engineering earned him magna cum laude honors, as well as a $5,000 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and the 2008 ACC Track and Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He was a two-time member of the ACC All-Academic team for track and field/cross country and a four-time pick for the ACC Honor Roll.
He earned a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering with his thesis “Automatic Handling Technology for Two-Sided Parts” a few years back and immediately began work on his doctorate under Seelecke. The move to Germany wasn’t part of the long-range plan, but it’s opened a world of opportunity for Furst.
“I’ve dropped seven seconds from my best time in the 5,000 meters, even though I was running injured during some of that time,” said Furst, who personal best is 13:29 in the 5,000 meters. “It’s been a great opportunity for me to be a part of the Olympic-training culture.”
Furst and Hill will run in the same heat of the event, which has a total of 25 runners in two different heats. The top 16 times will advance to Thursday’s finals and the top three will earn a trip to London.
“I feel good to be in a field this strong, with a shot to make the team,” Furst said. “I know I could run the race of my life and not make the team, but as long as I have a shot to be there in the moment, that’s what I will always remember.”