SOMETIMES BOLD INNOVATION and self-belief lead to the biggest breakthroughs. Run that by Olympic decathlete Steven Bastien if you’d like confirmation.
The Michigan alum, who will celebrate his 28th birthday in March, opened onlooker eyes wide at the Olympic Trials — no mean feat in a meet of such quality — as he rolled to 7 PRs en route to a lifetime best total of 8485 and a runner-up finish that carried him to Tokyo.
Having arrived in Eugene without the OG standard of 8350, and not on T&FN’s 10-deep formchart, Bastien added a walloping 472 points to his PR on the point production of best-evers in the 100 (10.52), shot (47-5¾/14.47), high jump (6-9¾/2.08), 110H (14.24), pole vault (16-2¾/4.95 =PR), javelin (200-9/61.20) and 1500 (4:22.21).
“It was super cool,” Bastien recalls along with the surreal pandemic meet conditions of the year-plus preceding the Trials. “We had had so much time where there was either no track meets or when you did go to a track meet, it felt kind of weird and like COVIDy. So it was super cool to have all the people I was accustomed to having at a track meet there.”
In his corner Bastien had wife Kiley, a former Michigan vaulter (13-11¼/4.25) now a volunteer assistant for the Wolverines who coaches him in the vault and long jump. Also on hand at a meet with Bastien for the first time since the pandemic set in was his coach since his Michigan days, Jerry Clayton, who this season advises over the phone from Baton Rouge where he is now part of the LSU staff.
“Jerry was there the whole time and helped coaching me through the events,” Bastien says. “I just had a lot of fun and just sort of tried to go out there and compete as hard as I could and not really hold anything back. To be able to perform when it matters most — when a lot of times you hope for that and maybe it doesn’t go that way — felt like an amazing blessing.”
Bastien’s was one of the most remarkable bolts from the blue — ex-Big Blue in his case — in a Trials chockablock with flashes. On his breakout’s heels, Bastien battled to 10th in Tokyo with his No. 2 score ever, 8236, even with his marks a half-notch off his Trials form.
To wrap his Olympic first day Bastien, however, PRed in the 400 with 47.64.
For Bastien — whose father Gary placed 3rd in the ’83 USATF 10-eventer and U.S.-Ranked No. 3 that year — the decathlon courses in his veins. He started as a trackster at age 5 and remembers the Hershey series of age-group meets as a fixture in his youth.
After college beginnings at Samford and a USATF Junior 4th in ’13, Bastien transferred to Michigan as a soph and first crossed the 8000-point line scoring 8015 for an NCAA 4th in ’17.
A pair of USATF 4th-placings followed that year and in ’19, the latter with his pre-’21 PR, 8023.
However, around that time Bastien — an avid student of biomechanics — was taking his first steps on a training path less taken.
In the spring of ’19, “I quit lifting weights,” he says. It’s a statement that may rock your conventional notions about physical conditioning. Bastien also often trains barefoot.
Legendary Aussie Percy Cerutty — the iconoclastic “Stotan” distance coach who developed world beaters in the ’50s and ’60s — might have nodded enthusiastically. But Bastien’s muse was and is PRI, shorthand for modalities and exercises developed by an organization called the Postural Restoration Institute.
Bastien was introduced to PRI by strength and conditioning coach Jay Epley, who collaborated with a nephew of Ron Hruska, PRI’s founder.
“At the time I had a bunch of injury issues,” Bastien recalls, “and some of the things that they showed me seemed to resolve multiple issues at once. So that really intrigued me and felt like a direction that I wanted to take things.”
At first Bastien mixed the PRI techniques with conventional weight training but he says now, “I just began to feel strongly that I could increase my biomechanical gains if I stopped lifting completely. I also started doing a lot of my training barefoot.
“I guess to summarize PRI, the main teachings are basically that our body isn’t completely symmetrical. For instance, our right lung is bigger than our left lung. You only have a liver on one side of your body. Basically, your right and left sides don’t work completely the same to complete tasks and a lot of PRI stuff centers around getting the lungs to work more effectively and unimpinged by the structures that exist around them, your shoulders and your rib cage and stuff like that.”
In practice, Bastien continues, ”My training really just revolves around trying to optimize how well I am regulating pressure with my lungs and then power efficiently my arms and legs swinging off of that pressure that your lungs create.
“For all of the pandemic season, I would kind of go out, do some events and just sort of increase the intensity until I would have a little twinge of pain almost. Then I would go back and try to problem-solve based on the information from that pain that I was getting as to what in the system wasn’t in the right place that sort of caused whatever happened in that pain stimulus area. I would just sort of tinker with some of these exercises and breathing and trying to get my body at length so that I could optimize the whip that goes through your body when you’re applying force to the ground for throwing or jumping or running.
“It’s almost like learning more fundamentally how one joint interacts with the next, or how the rhythm of that whip travels up your body when you’re throwing or jumping or running.
“I felt like things were just clicking into place, and moving into this past year, the Olympic Trials and stuff, I felt like I was in a really good place and that I was confident to sorta just go all out in all the events and not hold anything back or have reservations.”
The new unencumbered Bastien performed better, he says: “Whereas in the past, for instance, when I’d be throwing, I would pull back just a tiny bit to try and not fall or something like that.
“It just felt like I understood what the tasks of each event were a little bit better and how to go about doing them.”
Bastien also has clarity about the next hurdle he wants to clear, one he acknowledges caught him off stride between the Trials and Tokyo: optimizing the transition from the U.S. qualifying meet to the big dance.
After the Trials, he says, “having that success at a big meet and then having so many people from your life and from your past wanting to congratulate you and celebrate with you, I think it took me a little bit longer to sort of cool down and get back into training mode in between the Trials and the Olympics.
“Really my next goal is to try to battle at a major event. Feeling primed and ready going into that is the next thing I want to try to figure out.”
COMING SOON: Our feature on yet another multi star in the USA’s Olympian trio of 2021 World Rankers, Garrett Scantling.