OLIN - At pretty much every venue they competed during a memorable 1999 run for the Olin boys track and field team, Lion seniors Jesse VonBehren and Chris Sulzner were the class of the 1600-meter event.
And yes, it didn’t matter where they were or who they went up against, the Olin pair were usually finished 1-2 and left opposing fans, coaches and athletes more than a little impressed with their amazingly consistent performances.
The two would run side-by-side all the way to the class 1A state meet at Drake Stadium in Des Moines that May, where they would once again make sure the name ‘Olin’ was heard loud and clear inside the packed house.
The success started immediately that spring as well, as the two set the tone for the entire season with a 1-2 finish in the 1600 at Anamosa’s Early Bird event April 6.
“Jesse’s really running well, especially for this early in the season,” said Lion boys track coach Rich Ginn, as VonBehren won the first of numerous 1600 titles turning in a time of 4:38.
“He’s really making a strong push to qualify for the Drake Relays.”
Sulzner was right on VonBehren’s heels coming through with a 4:44 clocking that placed second, as the pair left their competition seeing red, the red from their track jerseys.
“We really dominated that event,” Ginn said. “The way Chris and Jesse are running, we could have them finish 1-2 at quite a few events this season.”
Ginn must have had a crystal ball back in ’99, because that’s exactly how most of the spring season would play out.
VonBehren’s fast start did earn the senior a berth to the prestigious Drake Relays April 24, where he not only competed in the 1600 event, but also 4x100 relay as a five-member Olin boys track team qualified four athletes for the event.
VonBehren placed 13th in the mile crossing the finish line with a time of 4:31.58 against the best the state of Iowa has to offer in the event, while the 4x100 team with Sulzner, Kasey Lyon and Bobby Jones, came through with a 46.61 clocking that placed them fourth in their heat.
Just three days earlier at a meet in West Branch, even Ginn was amazed by what he witnessed.
“Individually, this was one of the best meets I have ever seen us have,” he said.
With VonBehren (4:46) and Sulzner (4:47) going 1-2 in the 1600, the pair were also first and second, respectively, in the 800 as the team claimed four titles on the evening.
Even at larger venues, like Solon April 27, where numerous class 2A and 3A programs were also competing, VonBehren and Sulzner dominated the 1600 as the pair would roll into the district meet as two of the highest-ranked teammates in the mile in all of class 1A.
At Kingston Stadium in Cedar Rapids May 15, the Lion pair did not disappoint at the 1A district meet.
VonBehren’s 4:37.50 clocking not only won the 1600 district title, but entered the state meet as the second-best time in the class while Sulzner was third at districts after a 4:31.20 effort that also earned a berth to Drake Stadium.
The two weren’t done at districts yet either, as both qualified for state in the 800 with VonBehren winning another title after crossing with a 2:00.80 time that placed him third in the class entering Drake Stadium while Sulzner was third at districts in 2:05.20.
“We knew at the start of the season that Jesse was going to make it to state in the mile and half-mile,” Ginn said. “But Chris also going is a very pleasant surprise. His hard work and dedication to wanting to improve has really paid off for him, and it’s got him to the state meet when nobody thought we could at the start of the year.”
In Des Moines the Olin pair closed their careers with outstanding efforts in both the 1600 and 800 events May 29, with VonBehren just missing a title by a little over a second in the mile finishing as the state runner-up in a school-record time of 4:27.54. Sulzner was eighth in the state turning in a 4:36.19 effort.
“I just can’t say enough good things about these two guys,” Ginn said. “They’ve meant so much to this school and the community and will be sorely missed next year.”
VonBehren also medaled in the 800 coming through with a time of 2:01.08 while Sulzner was 21st in 2:09.87.