by Steve Newton
You can say that Dan Steele won the very first competition at birth, by entering the world two minutes ahead of his brother, Darrin, on March 20, 1969. Little did the Steele family realize that it wasn't a coincidence that both boys arrived minutes apart, but a microcosm of the brotherly rivalry that would occur over the next several decades.
"My mother and father had three girls already, so they decided to try one more time for a boy," Dan said. "The doctors had no idea that my mother was pregnant with twins because no ultrasound was used. Those were the days when ultrasound technology was still new within the world of medicine. So, I arrived first, and then Darrin made his way out, eight pounds later."
As twin brothers growing up in Milan, Ill., a town with a population of 5,100 and just outside the Quad Cities, Dan and Darrin found out at a young age what happens when you become a little too aggressive on the basketball court or while playing football in the backyard.
"Darrin and I would routinely have fist fights," Dan said. "But, the most interesting part is that we would sock it out for a few minutes and then be back playing again like nothing happened. We were two of the most competitive people you would ever meet. My dad even bought us boxing gloves once, but keeping the gloves on didn't last too long, especially if one us got a good punch in on the other."
Although their father had good intentions with the boxing gloves, Darrin, like Dan, remembers the afternoons spent lacing up the gloves and the inevitable outcomes.
"I don't know if it was that we were so competitive, but I think we couldn't stand watching the other person win," Darrin said. "Our dad had the wonderful idea of getting us those gloves to take out our aggression. He didn't realize that it would actually lead to fights."
After all the fighting subsided and the boxing gloves came off, Dan and Darrin compiled a nice resume for themselves on the track at Sherrard High School. Coming out of high school, Dan was on his way to run track at the University of Wyoming. He arrived on campus to sign his letter of intent and quickly panicked. At the time, Wyoming was competing on a dirt track, not an all weather surface like you see today. Dan made a quick phone call to Eastern Illinois University's track coach Neil Moore, who had offered him a scholarship earlier in the year. He drove back to Illinois and signed with EIU.
Darrin took a slightly different route to Eastern Illinois. He admits he didn't have the athletic credentials Dan had coming out of high school, so he decided to spend a year with the Illinois National Guard to earn money for college. Originally planning on attending the University of Illinois, Darrin enrolled at EIU after Dan had a great freshman season with the Panthers. Moore offered Darrin scholarship money to join his brother on the track team.
Both brothers went on to great success for the Panthers. Darrin became an All-American in the decathlon when he placed fifth at the 1991 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He was the 1992 Mid-Continent Conference, now Summit League, Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year and won a combined four events at the conference's Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships during his career. He graduated with both his bachelors and masters degrees within five years.
Dan became EIU's first track and field national champion by winning the 400m hurdles at the 1992 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He was a two-time All-American in the 400m hurdles and won four events at the Mid-Con Outdoor Championships. In 2011, The Summit League named him as one of its Top 30 Distinguished Contributors as part of its 30th Anniversary Season celebration.
"That was a terrific feeling and an amazing way to end my collegiate career," Dan said about his 400m hurdle national championship race. "I was not the best 400m hurdler in the race, but I knew if I ran a technically sound race I could finish in the top three."
Dan was in lane seven in the championship heat and two lanes over to his left in lane five was Georgia Tech's Derrick Adkins. Going into the race Adkins was one of the favorites to win it, but when Adkins tripped and fell on the eighth hurdle, Dan gained the lead and became an NCAA champion. Four years later at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Adkins went on to win gold for the United States in the 400m hurdles.
Following their collegiate careers, Darrin and Dan continued to train for the Olympics and in 1996, they qualified for the U.S. Olympic team trials. Both brothers were battling injuries and failed to qualify for Atlanta. As fate would have it, Dan and Darrin were approached by representatives from the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, who were scouting at the 1996 Olympic team trials. The representatives asked the brothers to attend the summer training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.
"I was always a big fan of the Winter Olympics, but I never saw myself competing in them." Dan said. "Honestly, at the time, I wasn't that familiar with bobsledding, but I did want to take a trip out to Lake Placid and see what the sport had to offer."
Darrin, like Dan, accepted the invitation to Lake Placid. He took full advantage of the opportunity and smoothly transitioned into bobsledding and made the 1996 World Cup team.
"I could see on paper that I might be good at bobsledding," Darrin said. "The first time I pushed the sled, I quickly understood that there was a little more to it. But, I knew I could learn the skills that were needed to become successful. I put on 10 pounds of muscle and with more practice, came to realize that I had been training for the sport of bobsled my entire athletic career. As a bobsledder, you use the same types of muscle groups and similar training methods as you do in track and field."
Dan stepped up his training regiment and earned a spot on the 1998 United States Olympic Bobsled team alongside Darrin. Neither brother medaled at the Nagano Games, but the seed was planted and four years later at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games they would represent the United States once again. Before Salt Lake City, Dan and Darrin qualified for the 2000 Olympic team trials in the Decathlon. It was Dan's third Summer Olympic trials (1992, 1996, 2000) and Darrin's second (1996, 2000). Dan finished fifth at the 2000 trials.
Coming just five months after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City proved to be an emotional time for the Steeles and the rest of the athletes.
"There was security everywhere, infrared helicopters flying around and snipers up in the mountains," Darrin said. "It was a reality check of the changing times, but it felt like we had the support of the entire world behind us."
On the evening of the opening ceremonies and after all the delegations arrived in the stadium, the United States flag from the World Trade Center was carried into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium by U.S. Olympic athletes and 9/11 first responders. According to Dan, it was one of the most memorable moments of his athletic career.
"It was absolutely silent when the flag made its way into the stadium," Dan said. "I remember thinking to myself that I would easily go through all the training and sacrifices just to be a part of something like that again. It was very surreal and special."
Days later at Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah, Dan helped lead USA II to a bronze medal performance in the four-man bobsled. Dan's team of Brian Shimer, Mike Kohn and Doug Sharp, recorded the fastest time in the final heat to overtake Switzerland I and finish behind USA I, which took the silver.
"An amazing moment," Dan said about his team's bronze medal performance. "We had a lot of confidence going in. The push off the starting gate was perfect and so was the drive. We had come so close for so many years and to win two medals in the four-man bobsled was unbelievable."
The silver and bronze medals won that evening ended a 46-year medal drought in the sport of bobsled for the United States.
Darrin and his teammate, Brian Shimer, finished ninth in the two-man bobsled at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. After the Olympics, Darrin, who was a member of the Home Depot Olympian Training Program - a program that allows Olympic hopefuls to work 20 hours a week but earn a full-time salary, accepted an offer from Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli to join the Business Leadership Program. Darrin managed Home Depot stores and a call center until he became the CEO of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation in 2007, a position he still holds today. He earned his MBA from the University of California in 2008.
Dan took over as head track and field coach at the University of Northern Iowa in October 2009. He spent the 2007-09 seasons as the University of Oregon's Associate Director of Track and Field and as its Assistant Track & Field Coach from 2003-07. In 2009, he was named the NCAA Men's Indoor Coach of the Year and the NCAA West Regional Women's Coach of the Year. One year prior in 2008, he was honored as the Pac-10 Coach of the Year. Dan was also the recipient of the West Regional Assistant Coach of the Year (Sprints/Hurdles) in 2005 and 2007.
Dan and Darrin were inducted into the Eastern Illinois University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
Dan Steele Profile
EDITOR'S NOTE: This feature was originally published in the 2012 Summit League Outdoor Track & Field Championships program (May 10-12).
Be sure to check The Summit League website throughout the 2011-12 season for profiles on each member of the Top 30 Distinguished Contributors list. Additional content will also be added as part of The Summit League's 30th Anniversary Season celebration.