Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Griak: The Great Minnesota Get Together

The lead pack in the boy's Gold race.
(From Left to Right) Obsa Ali, Connor Olson, Keeghan Hurley,
Addison DeHaven, Olin Hacker, Chandler Austin.
Photo by Gene Niemi
It seems fitting that the annual Griak Invitational cross country meet is held near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds as it is something of a Great Minnesota Get Together for the singlet and shorts set.  With quite a few "invited guests."

Despite the rain and intermittent tent toppling winds, the only noticeable impact on the event was fewer spectators.  Either that or the spectators that came didn't linger as long, escaping when the race or races they came to watch were over.  The race results, displayed on the large framed mounted poster boards, got soaked and frayed in the inclement weather, but the runners hardly seemed to notice the sloppy conditions.

They came to race and test themselves, to hopefully improve on past performances.  St. Scholastica senior Chelsea Johnson came into the race healthier than last year when she was recovering from a winter injury and optimistic about what she could do.  A couple days before the race, she said, she was thinking "top three," but as the race got closer she decided why not try and win it.

"I went with how I felt," she said of her fast start, bolting to the front at the blast from the starter's pistol.  As the race progressed she noticed that nobody went with her.  "Why isn't anybody up here," she said to herself.  She had a few moments of doubt, bad patches, but was never challenged either by fatigue or the other runners as she cruised to a 16 second win over runner-up Noelle Olson, a St. Olaf freshman who had beaten Johnson last week.

Bethel's Matt Berens went to the front of the men's Maroon III race because he likes to run from the front, not due to any belief that he could run away from the rest of the field.  "I felt like I had a shot to win it," Berens said, who had evaluated the strength of the field and believed he had a chance at the top spot.  "I raced here(the Bolstad golf course) once in high school, and I always felt I could run well in adverse conditions."

Nobody went with Berens or got close enough to challenge him later in the race, so when Berens was feeling the effort around the four to five kilometer mark, he still had no reason to worry.  He just admonished himself to "stay tough."  And when another crisis of confidence came at 6K it didn't cause any panic as he maintained at least a 10 second advantage all the way to the finish.

St Augustine senior, Norwegian native Runa Falch did not have fond memories of running on the Griak course.  As a freshman she went out too fast and paid for it later in the race and another year she dropped out.  She didn't let that effect her, she said: "You can't let the past haunt you."  Older and wiser, she decided to be more conservative this time and it paid off in a new course record and a nearly five second margin of victory.

Drawn to the South Dakota school by being offered a scholarship, Falch is majoring in international politics and plans to go back to Norway and get a law degree when she graduates with the ultimate goal being doing work for a humanitarian organization.  For students at BYU, taking a year or more to go outside the US working for humanitarian causes is part of the curriculum.  It hasn't hurt the accomplishments of the school's athletes.  The BYU team won the men's Gold collegiate championship and senior Tylor Thatcher won the individual crown, outsprinting NCAA DII power Adams State's Kevin Batt.

"I knew it would be a battle," said Thatcher, as Batt had a better 5K personal best, but Thatcher was able to nip the Grizzly sophomore at the line.  Boy's high school Gold champion, Richflield senior Obsa Ali also knew he would have a battle as several other runners including Wayzata's Connor Olson and Perham's Keegan Hurley came into the event undefeated, as did Ali.They were joined by Brookings HS's Addison DeHaven, none of whom could challenge Ali when he unleashed his kick down the final straightaway.

"I felt great," said Ali.  "(In the early part of the race) I thought we were going slow. I tried to be patient."  Richfield coach Marty Huberty had mapped out a strategy when the team did a course tour the day before the race.  He took them to the rise overooking the finish and told Ali that it was a straight shot from there to the finish and this was where he should launch his kick.

Ali made a surge when the pack of five came through the four kilometer mark, he said, and the others went with him.  So, Ali settled in and waited for the final stretch where he quickly opened up a gap that grew as he sprinted toward the finish appearing totally in control.  "I really want to win the State Championship," said Ali of his season's goal.  After that he hopes for a top five finish at the Footlocker Championships.

While being interviewed after the Griak win, he was introduced to Gopher legend and US Olympian Garry Bjorklund, who was in town for the Roy Griak 50th part on Thursday.  The Gopher grad put in a pitch for Ali's next step after defending his 3200 track title and helping Richfield's 4 by 800 relay at next year's MSHSL track championships to be a Golden Gopher.  Later a recruiter from the University of Wisconsin was making their pitch to Ali and Huberty.

Ali had said after his win at the 2013 State track meet that he hoped his effort would attract the attention of college recruiters.  Appears his wish has come true.

Full results and race recaps are HERE and HERE.Running Times feature on Tylor Thatcher is HERE.

1 comment:

Chad said...

I'm late to the party on this, but this is a great photo - one we'll look back on years from now and be in awe of all the studs these guys turned out to be.