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CJ Singleton, Notre Dame steeplechase runner and Butler High grad, qualifies for Olympic Trials

Called Shot
Butler graduate and Notre Dame runner CJ Singleton stands with a trophy at the NCAA Division I Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Singleton finished fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a personal-record time of 8:27.46. Submitted Photo

Chris Singleton learned a lot on a short drive back from the diamond.

“We had driven to the game together last summer,” Singleton said, remembering a quick spin with his son, CJ, after a Butler County Area Baseball League (BCABL) game. “He’d had a really good freshman year (running) at Notre Dame, but he still wanted to play baseball with the guys. We were coming home and I said, ‘You know, you’re still only going to be 20 next year. You could still play another year in this league next year if you wanted to.”

He casually asked CJ if he thought he’d want to break out his bat and glove again this summer.

“Hopefully I won’t be able to,” the younger Singleton answered, momentarily confounding his dad. “Hopefully I’m going to be training for the Olympic Trials next summer.”

The statement surprised Chris.

“As a dad, I was kind of like, ‘Wait a second. He just said that — and he means it,’” the elder Singleton said.

And he achieved it.

With a 3,000-meter steeplechase time of 8:27.46, CJ placed fifth at the NCAA Division I Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Friday. He was in position to win the race until the final 100 meters. The finish garnered him first-team All-American honors, making him the first Butler High School graduate to accomplish such a feat.

The effort was also a personal record that qualifies him for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, held from June 21-30 at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. Roughly 30 athletes have met the standard, most being professional runners. CJ is almost sure to be the youngest of the bunch.

“I kind of had it in the back of my head all of last baseball season that it was probably going to be my last one,” CJ said. “I wanted to be on campus for as long as I could this summer. Obviously, there wasn’t a guarantee, but I thought it was definitely possible and I wanted to make it happen this season.”

Chris Neal, an assistant track and field coach at Notre Dame, also noticed a change in CJ’s demeanor.

“I think he’s kind of turned a nice corner to where he really feels like he deserves to be with the big boys at the front of a race,” Neal said.

It took jumping through a few hoops to have the chance.

“It’s so hard to actually get there,” Butler track and field coach Mike Seybert said. “You have to qualify to go to the qualifiers, like in the regionals. Then you have to qualify from there to get out to Oregon for the nationals. Then there’s trials with the best kids and then like 12 make it to the next day championships.

“It’s a big trek to get into the final heat.”

At the quarterfinals, held at the NCAA East First Round last month in Lexington, Ky., Singleton grabbed the final qualifying spot with a third-place finish of 8:36.91.

He placed fifth in the prelims with a time of 8:29.23 at Hayward Field.

“I had the 12th-fastest time in the country,” CJ said. “I was supposed to finish last if you look at that. ... A lot of guys are just happy to make that final, but I wanted to do something a little more. I wanted to finish in that top eight. I wanted to give myself a shot to win it.”

Singleton began competing in the event in college.

“To go over as many hurdles as he goes over each lap and the water jump every lap, that can wear and tear on your body,” Seybert said. “It’s just really impressive how far he’s come in just two years with this event — and it’s a grueling one.”

CJ’s multi-sport background paid off in the event. He likens running steeplechase barriers to shooting a lay-up in stride.

“I played basketball pretty much my entire life so I kind of had that background of jumping,” CJ said.

He also credits the level of planning that Seybert and Golden Tornado cross country coach Rick Davanzati provided during his prep career, along with the work his current coaches have done.

“If you watch him – day in and day out — he does everything you’d ever expect from an elite-level athlete,” Neal said. “Just huge blocks of training, good focus. He’s very into it, so when he has an off day, it really shows in his face.

“He doesn’t have them very often, I will say.”

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