One sweet visit to Hershey awaited Coon Rapids youngster

Ben Olson has achieved a lot in the running world – setting record times and qualifying to some of the most elite racing programs.

The 13-year-old Coon Rapids resident recently returned from participating in the North American Final of the Hershey’s Track and Field Games in Hershey, Pa., Aug. 1-4.

Ben Olson gives a thumbs up after winning one of three events at the USATF Minnesota Junior Olympics meet in St. Paul July 8. Less than one month later Olson took part in the North American Finals at the Hershey’s Track and Field Games in Hershey, Pa.

Ben Olson gives a thumbs up after winning one of three events at the USATF Minnesota Junior Olympics meet in St. Paul July 8. Less than one month later Olson took part in the North American Finals at the Hershey’s Track and Field Games in Hershey, Pa.Submitted photo

Over the past five years, Olson has earned several all-American honors through USATF track and cross country events.

Olson finished 11th in the 800-meter run at Hershey’s (13-14 age division) in 2 minutes, 15.94 seconds or third among other 13-year-olds. His plan for the big race: “I wanted to stick with the leaders the best I could but they’re a year older which made it tough,” he said.

To reach the finals at Hershey, Olson had to run qualifying times in the district meet held at St. Louis Park High School and a state meet at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

This was just the latest result in an already medal-filled journey for Olson that began as an eight-year-old.

He averages 25-30 miles of training runs each week, combined with even more miles of training on roller skis during the summer.

Olson said he competes on average five meets each summer to gauge training progress and prepare for the upcoming high school running season: cross country in the fall, Nordic skiing in the winter and track in the spring.

Coon Rapids 13-year-old Ben Olson runs around the turn during the USATF Minnesota Junior Olympics meet at the University of St. Thomas July 8. Olson won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 events in his age group.

Coon Rapids 13-year-old Ben Olson runs around the turn during the USATF Minnesota Junior Olympics meet at the University of St. Thomas July 8. Olson won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 events in his age group.Submitted phot

When he isn’t competitively running or skiing, Olson is part of the Blaine Soccer Club’s U14 C1 team that made it to state. He also plays hockey with the Blaine Youth Hockey Association’s Peewee AA, that made it to regions last winter.

While at Hershey’s not only did Olson compete against other U.S. runners, but Canadians and Puerto Ricans also made up the field.

The day before the meet the participants received a few words of encouragement and training support from former U.S. Olympians Carl Lewis and Rafer Johnson. Afterwards, the contingent toured the Hershey’s chocolate factory and enjoyed some free time at the famed amusement park.

“The factory had a ton of chocolate with aisles and aisles of Kit Kats and Hershey bars,” Olson said. They learned about how the famous chocolate is made.

Of course, Olson likes chocolate from time to time but riding roller coasters on a hot day upset his stomach ahead of the big day.

Hershey’s was Olson’s first trip to a meet without his parents, Darci and Brad Olson, or sister Sarah by his side.

Competing under the spotlight of a national- or international-level meet isn’t something new for Olson, who has earned numerous all-American honors for placing in the top 10 at national meets.

He was named USA Track and Field Minnesota’s Athlete of the Year award for the Bantam Boys’ division as an 11-year-old in 2011. He smashed the association records in the 800 (2:33.78) and 1,500 (5:07.19), winning the 1,500 by 38 seconds at USATF Minnesota state meet. After qualifying for USATF nationals through a region competition in Iowa, Olson made the trip to Sacramento, Calif., for nationals where he placed seventh among the best nine-and 10-year-olds in the 1,500 in 5:01.89.

Olson continued that winning pace earlier this summer winning the 800 (216:9.8), 1,500 (4:35.56) and 3,000 (9:49.16) events at the USATF Minnesota Junior Olympics Championships at the University of St. Thomas July 8.

Last fall he ran with the Blaine High School cross country team, but because of the school district’s play-up policy, Olson couldn’t compete with the varsity team. Instead, he turned in some remarkable performances at the junior varsity level. His best time on a five kilometer course was 17:30.

After the season he posted another personal best time, and Minnesota record for 12-year-olds of 16:59 during the Anoka Halloween Gray Ghost 5K. He finished fifth in the race and said he enjoyed running among the big crowds lining the route of the annual Halloween parade.

This spring he continued to turn heads at the high school level, winning the Northwest Suburban Conference junior varsity 3,200 race in 10:50 before winning his USATF age-group 3,000 race a couple weeks later in a 10:28-equivalent time. He was in the same heat as current high school two-mile track champion Ali Obsa of Richfield, but Obsa finished about 300 meters ahead of Olson.

His goal for next spring is to run a 16:30 in the 5,000-meter or qualify for the state meet.

In 2012 he competed in the USATF cross country nationals in New Mexico but passed out on the three kilometer course, attributing it to altitude sickness.

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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