Third one year. Second the next. Followed, finally, by a first-place finish.

Sounds like a pretty natural progression. Nice and admirable, but nothing worthy of leading "SportsCenter" or making it onto the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But then, there are these facts to digest:

Bridget Franek placed third and second in the Penn Relays mile while a high school student in Hiram, Ohio. And then last night, in a mixed steeplechase race (covering 3,000 meters) that included college students and those beyond who were trying to develop themselves for the 2008 Olympics, the Penn State freshman merely stormed to victory.

With a big smile, Franek said, "After getting third and second here, I was telling myself, 'Time to get it done.'"

Hey, she's from Ohio. Not Mississippi. Thus the absence of "git 'er done."

"It's nice to get a gold medal."

The steeplechase is almost never contested at the high school level, except in some AAU events, and this was Franek's second time ever.

There's a family history, though. Franek said her father, Tom, was a steeplechaser while attending Bowling Green University and even made at least one Penn Relays appearance.

"When I was younger, he would always tell me steeplechase stories," she said. "It sounded like fun. I always imagined I'd try it when I got to college.

"I came to Penn State as a 1,500-meter runner, but I kept bugging the coach. Finally, I got the word, 'OK, you can try the steeple drills.' I had to jump into the pit a couple of times. It's fun to splash around. Luckily, I haven't fallen yet."

Being so new to the event, Franek surely did not expect to win. Just in case, though, she entered with a winning mind-set and set it into motion.

Franek's winning time was 9 minutes, 59.21 seconds. Dawn Cromer, from the Olympic Development group, was second in 10:09.83.

"I wasn't sure how I felt after the first lap," Franek said. "But my game plan was to keep going and see what happened. I wanted to stay right behind her [Cromer] until something happened — either she'd go or I'd feel good and make the move.

"The first few laps, when I was hanging around her, I just felt so good. It was like a great jog. A different pace than I'm used to running in the 1,500. I knew I could go faster, but I told myself to wait until 2 laps were left to make sure it would be a confident, productive move. And I hoped she wouldn't have an answer."

Zoom. See ya.

"I'm still learning the fundamentals of this," Franek said. "I feel as though I have a long way to go, strategywise.

"I don't know if this will wind up being my concentration event for the rest of this year, but definitely in the future. I like it. Lots of fun."

Lots of potential as well. *