NCAA steeplechase champion Donn Cabral '12, shown here in a 2010 race. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

NCAA steeplechase champion Donn Cabral '12, shown here in a 2010 race. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Just hours after last Tuesday’s Commencement ceremony, Donn Cabral ’12 joined five other members of the men’s and women’s track and field teams on a plane to the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. On June 9, the final day of the meet, Cabral lined up for the finals of the steeplechase. After finishing second in the event in 2010 and 2011 — to Louisville’s Matt Hughes, who was out of the picture this season after exhausting his four years of eligibility — Cabral stood at the starting line as the unquestioned favorite.

But there were still 3,000 meters to be run. How would Cabral handle the pressure of being the man to beat?

“I was actually pretty calm about the expectations and the target on my back,” he said. “It went exactly as I expected … I wanted to just sit on the shoulder of the leader, and luckily, nobody was really crowding my space or challenging me too much, so I was able to comfortably stay in that position. We did that for 2,000 meters of the race, and at the 2,000-meter mark, I made a strong move to the front and tried to run away from the pack.”

Cabral did exactly that, quickly pulling away from all but one runner and then dusting Texas A&M’s Henry Lelei in the final lap. The Tiger finished in eight minutes, 35.44 seconds, more than five seconds clear of the field, to claim Princeton’s third national championship of the 2011-12 athletics season (joining the men’s squash team and epeeist Jonathan Yergler ’13). Princeton had not won three national titles in a year since 2003.

For Cabral, the season is not over yet. He currently is training on campus for an even bigger race on a bigger stage: the Olympic Trials, which begin June 21 in Eugene, Ore. Cabral will be facing extremely difficult competition, but as of right now, he holds the fastest U.S. time this year – 8:19.14, an American collegiate record, which he set at the USATF Oxy High Performance Meet May 18.

“It’s been probably 18 months I’ve been pointing toward this one race,” Cabral said. “I honestly can’t wait to be there, and I know that the time is going to fly between now and then. I’ll be on that starting line in no time, smiling and enjoying every minute of it.”

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