The Jefferson Brothers (09-23-03)
Bloomington, Ind. - In less than two years at Indiana, sophomore twin brothers John and Sean Jefferson have each built an impressive list of credentials. When John finished fourth and Sean finished sixth at the 2002 Big Ten Cross Country Championships in West Lafayette, they became the first Hoosier rookies since Olympian Bob Kennedy (1988) to earn all-league honors. In addition, John became the third runner in school history (Kennedy, 1988 and Marius Bakken, 1997) to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.
The Jefferson brothers carried this momentum to indoor and outdoor track. John was a 2002 NCAA All-American the 2003 Big Ten champion and national runner-up in the indoor mile and also qualified for the outdoor nationals in the 1500m. Sean was an NCAA outdoor qualifier in the 5000m, and both Sean and John competed in the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Palo Alto three months ago, with Sean finishing 11th
Given such immediate success, one would guess the Jefferson brothers might become complacent.
"In history there have only been, I believe, five sets of brothers who have broken 4:00 for the mile," Indiana head cross country coach and assistant track coach Robert Chapman said. But none have been twins, and no sets of brothers have ever done it in the same race. Accomplishing that feat - both breaking 4minutes in the same race - is something we've talked about.
" John has already run 4:01 for a full mile indoors and 3:41 for 1,500m outdoors, which converted to a mile is about a 3:58. With only two real opportunities to run the 1500m last year, Sean ran 3:43, which is right at 4:00. So at some point over their next three years at Indiana, as long as we time things right and get lucky avoiding injury, they certainly could make history."
While the distinction would be nice, the Jefferson brothers are more focused upon reaching elite level status in track and cross country.
"For any miler, (running) four minutes is the first barrier," John Jefferson said. "We both could do it in the same race, because we really thrive off each other."
Just as they have identical physical attributes, Sean and John Jefferson have taken similar paths in their athletic careers. The Jeffersons, along with Stephen Haas, highlighted a 2001 Indiana cross country recruiting class conidered by many to be the best in the country. The Hoosiers were the only program in the nation that season to sign three Footlocker National High School Championship Finalists.
Despite such lofty accolades, the trio sat out the 2001 cross country season as redshirts. It's a decison for which both Jeffersons are very grateful.
"The redshirt year helped us get used to college level training," Sean said. "Coach Chapman just felt that it would be best for our team depth if we did that. It was not that hard of a decision."
Now in his sixth season at the helm of the Hoosiers, Chapman certainly had some insight into the future.
"Even for high school All-Americans, the transition from high school to college can be a very big one," Chapman said. "For Sean and John, they were coming from a background of training where the did somewhat fewer miles but much higher quality. Redshirting that first season, I believe enabled them to build a foundation to be able to base the rest of their career on. They handled the transition to this level well, and I think we are starting to see some pretty big dividends."
Indeed, the results are quite visible. While the Jefferson brothers have each emerged on the national cross country and track scene, the best may be yet to come.
Chapman feels that Sean's finish at the USA Meet is the defining moment of his career, and Sean concurs.
"I've seen a lot of those guys (at USAs) on television, and knowing I could run with them was a lot of fun. These are the guys I have always looked up to," Sean said. "It really helped me look at them as peers rather than idols."
While John has also enjoyed success at the NCAA indoor track and field championships, he places an even grater value on the learning experience.
"My freshman year, I was pretty intimidated at NCAA indoors," the two-time indoor 1500m All-American said.
"Last year's NCAA cross country meet was the same way. It's almost like you need to get one out of the way so that you know what to expect. It was a really good experience. Now, we know and we're going to be ready to race."
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