Rebenciuc claims M35 AR steeple record — 7 years after the fact

Sandu Rebenciuc

Sandu Rebenciuc won’t say it, but I will: He had an easier time dealing with Romania’s dictatorship than USATF’s when it comes to records. I didn’t know Sandu from Adam until a couple days ago when, out of the blue, he informed me that he’s the rightful owner of the M35 American record in the 3000-meter steeplechase. In fact, his IAAF bio says Sandu recorded his all-time best at age 35 — clocking 8.30.45 at some obscure 2004 meet in Sacramento called the Olympic Trials. That’s better than the listed M35 AR of 8:38.8 by Mike Manley. So muchas gracias, Sandu! Without another horror story on the records front, what would I write about?

I asked Sandu — born May 26, 1969 — to give me some career highlights, and he graciously replied:

I was an NCAA Division III cross country champion back in 1991. In 1999, and after several years of not running very much, I joined the US Army and got selected for the World Class Athlete Program (unit). I started running well again, especially in cross country.

In 2003 and 2004 I represented the U.S. in the World Cross Country Championships (short race).Interestingly enough, I ran a couple of my personal bests in the summer of 2004, just after turning 35: 3.43.99/ 1500m, 13.56.30/5000m and 8.30.45/St.

Sandu says he ran his 8.30.45 in the qualifying round of the 2004 Trials. But since he didn’t collect paperwork and submit his mark for ratification, it fell through the cracks. Of course, one could argue that the Trials mark should be accepted on its face (after his age is verified).

But that would be too easy.

So chalk up another mark on the books not worth the paper they’re not printed on.

Meanwhile, check out his Hall of Fame entry at Augustana College and his 2006 profile in The New York Times.

Augustana College says:

On the track or the cross country course, Rebenciuc made it look so easy. His stride was light and effortless, his finishing kick blistering. He ran and he won — a lot. During his Augustana career, which spanned the early 1990s, Rebenciuc won a grand total of seven NCAA Division III national championships. He won two indoor titles at 1500 meters (1992 & 1993), four outdoor crowns (1500 in 1992 and 1993, 10,000 in 1992 and 3000 steeplechase in 1993) and one in cross country (1991).
He was a 14 time All-American (three in cross country, five in indoor track and six in outdoor track). He was a seven time College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin champion in track and a two time winner in cross country.

While his success as a runner appeared uncomplicated, Rebenciuc’s life was anything but. In an interesting dichotomy, his journey to collegiate success was one that was fraught with peril and danger. Before he could get to Augustana, where he thrived, he was forced to make a decision that had to be gut-wrenching for a teenager.

A native of Bucharest, Romania, Rebenciuc was a member of the Romanian junior national team and was preparing for the 1988 Balkan Cross Country Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. The only son of Maria and Gheorghe Rebenciuc, Sandu was concerned about his future.

“Life was hopeless in Romania,” he said in a May 17, 1992, article in the Moline Dispatch. “The economy was very bad, the opportunities in everyday life were limited. You couldn’t do anything; there was a shortage of everything; no freedom of opinion, you couldn’t talk about the regime or say anything against communism.”

Those were the days of Nicolae Ceausescu, a vicious dictator, and Rebenciuc knew that his future was limited. He made his decision — it was time to defect. It would not be simple, however, because he was on the “watch list” because he had an aunt in Chicago, which made him a flight risk.

When his passport was cleared to go to the Balkan Championships, his mind was made up. He knew from talks with his parents that Turkey would not be able to deny his request for political asylum. When he got to Istanbul, he walked into a police station and made his request to defect.

That began a long and terrifying journey that would last two years and involve several stays in refugee camps. Life in those refugee camps was hard, but Rebenciuc was looking ahead.

“I knew what I was doing,” he said. I knew the consequences and I wanted to do it.”

Eventually he ended up in Chicago in March of 1990 and he immediately began to take English classes. He hooked up with fellow countryman David Spataru, who just happened to be the Augustana men’s soccer coach at the time. One thing led to another and he enrolled in Rock Island in the fall of 1990.

When he got to Augustana, the success came almost immediately as he won the CCIW cross country title in the 1990 and in the spring of 1991 he won the 800 and 1500 in the conference track meet. That same spring he placed second in the NCAA Division III 1500 in both indoor and outdoor track.

It was the beginning of a career which would eventually end in the fall of 1994 when he used his final year of eligibility to play soccer, where he scored eight goals and had four assists. In addition to all of his conference championships, national titles and All-American certificates, Rebenciuc still holds a total of seven Augustana school records.

When he left Augustana, he didn’t stop running and twice he was on the United States World Championship team in cross country. He also participated in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials, making the final in the 3000 steeplechase in 2004. A 1994 graduate of Augustana with a degree in biology, Sandu lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his wife Marijane and his daughter Sophia. He is currently in the United States Army.

In the fall of 2008, Rebenciuc was inducted into the Augustana Tribe of Vikings Hall of Fame along with seven other from Viking student-athletes and the 1983 Augustana football team.

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September 28, 2011

8 Responses

  1. peter taylor - September 28, 2011

    I remember Sandu; I announced him in the mile at some obscure event we hold every year — the USA Masters Indoors. He finished so far ahead that it was both amazing and embarrassing, as if he had somehow gotten into the wrong meet (this was in Boston).

    His mark at the US Olympic Trials, pending age verification, should be accepted as an American record. Do you think that open and collegiate athletes who set records at the Trials routinely carry a form around afterwards and beg people to sign it?

    Are the races run at the Olympic Trials not the right length? I think not. I believe this issue is a matter of showing respect for the athlete.

  2. Andrew Hecker - September 28, 2011

    I will say I’ve had Sandu on the wikipedia version of United States records in masters athletics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_records_in_masters_athletics
    since the beginning. It is probably second in the list of high quality meets where ignored records have been set, just behind Jearl Miles Clark setting the W35 800 meter record at a little, unimportant meet in Athens later in 2004, called the Olympics.
    Records committee, or even those who supervise the records committee. One question: Why?

  3. peter taylor - September 28, 2011

    Great job, Andy. I went to the site you list above and there was Sandu’s mark, big as life, with his birthdate and even a reference for the record (the history of the Olympic Trials). You are to be commended for all of the work you have done on this project.

  4. Steve Vaitones - September 29, 2011

    On Pete’s first comments, check the Rule Book.
    Rule 261.5 –
    “When a Masters Record has been equaled or bettered in a World Masters Association Championship, a USA Masters Indoor or Outdoor Championship or any event listed in Rule 261.4, that record may be ratified based on official results of that meet and the submission of correct6 age documentation without the need for formal record application. However, a n application and/or other appropriate documentation may be required by the Records Committee whenever it has received information creating some reasonable doubt as to the correctness of the official results”
    Rule 261.4 includes the Olympic Trials.

    Maybe some marks just slip through at meets like the trials because no one is looking for them at those meets. So we can lament the missing mark, or do something.
    I did the latter.

    The mark was brought to the attention of Record Chairman Justin Kuo. He has been added to those being brought up for approval at the USATF Annual Meeting. He asked Sandy Pashkin if anything was needed beside date of birth verification,and she said no. So I’m contacting Sandu for the appropriate proof of date of birth. And a record should be approved in December

    Steve Vaitones

  5. Matt B. - September 29, 2011

    So is 9:06.98 the new M45 WR? Is that ratified?

    I’d be even more impressed if Sandu can break that record in a few years. Taht is equal to a sub 8.
    Is he still competing- I don’t see any recent results.

  6. JavierS-not - September 30, 2011

    Kudos to Sandu!
    I’m amazed at how some individuals manage to excel in spite of life’s obstacles, or perhaps because of them…

  7. Texas Tornado - September 30, 2011

    Steve, you are to be commended for taking the needed steps to have Sandu’s record entered into the masters record books. Thank you for making that effort for him. Unfortunately there are many other records that “fell through the cracks” as Ken stated. It’s a good thing that Sandu’s record will be accepted in December but sadly we can’t say that for some other records (Thigpen and Harvey come to mind) that have been ignored over the years.

  8. peter taylor - October 2, 2011

    Good points, Texas T. I appreciate that Steve V. both (a) pointed out the relevant rules to us and (b) did the work to ensure that Sandu will get his record. But as you indicate, what about the others? Here are some good recent examples:

    Last year at Boston in writing about the indoor masters nationals, USATF rightly focused on Stacey Nieder as one of the stars:

    Nieder sets HJ mark

    The women’s high jump competition was highlighted by an American record by Stacey Nieder of Anchorage, Alaska. Nieder cleared 1.67m/5-5.75….

    As you probably know, Texas T., that mark went absolutely nowhere, even though it was set at nationals and was not surpassed by anyone else that year.

    How about Albuquerque 2011, you say. Well, here is a nice example:

    The only record for the 800’s came in women’s 85-89 division, where 88 year old Mary Kirsling …to set an American record.

    You may know as well, Texas T., that that mark went nowhere, never made “pending.” Mary ran four times around the track, got a FAT, and did it at nationals, and it meant nothing at all.

    Thus, we need to focus on actually carrying out the mandate of recognizing marks achieved at masters nationals.

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