It really was just August, although the clock suggested otherwise.
Racing at a blistering pace, Blaine senior Ben Olson broke the 16-minute mark as he captured the individual championship at Thursday’s ABC Earlybird Meet in Anoka, covering the course in 15:58.7.
And the season is just getting started.
“Ben ran exactly as I hoped he would,” Blaine head coach Rachel Karel said. “He has had a great summer of training and I anticipate many races as exciting as this first race. Last year Ben was sort of stuck in the 16:10s all season, and this summer he ran a road race 5K in 16:07. I think that really made a big difference in terms of his confidence going into the season. He looks strong and confident.”
Olson is no stranger to the premier state stage, placing highly in cross country, Nordic skiing and track and field in prior seasons.
Still, there’s a feeling that it has all been leading to this year.
“Ben has been training hard for many years for this, his senior season,” Karel said. “I hope to see him continue to drop time, win a few more races and finish in the top few runners in the state. He has grown in size, strength and maturity in the past year, and I think he’s going to have a lot of fun this season.”
After a heavy workload two summers ago, Olson has scaled back slightly to try to stay fresh throughout the fall, using ski training to aid his running as well.
“Two years ago, I ran 630 miles and ended up losing it the last few races of the season,” Olson said. “This year and last, I have lessened the miles, but increased the overall training volume with roller skiing. I think that this kind of cross training has really benefited me in performance and has kept me healthy.
“This summer, I was also lucky enough to train at altitude with my ski club in Truckee, California. I think training in these conditions helped me prepare for what to expect in my future racing career.”
That willingness to put in offseason miles is at the top of the list of reasons Olson has been so successful, Karel said.
“Number one, work ethic,” Karel said. “Ben is the hardest working athlete I have ever had the pleasure of coaching. I always have teased that he’s a robot, but that’s far from true. Ben is naturally talented, of course, but it’s his work ethic, attitude and driven state of mind that put him on top.”
Olson’s impact at Blaine has reached far beyond himself, helping grow the program.
“Having Ben on this team has truly transformed cross country at Blaine,” Karel said. “We have almost 50 boys on the team this year. Ben has done quite a bit of recruiting, but his reputation precedes him, and other kids want to be a part of that. My former assistant coach Andy Schwen once said that Ben is a once in a lifetime type of athlete, and he was right.”
The Bengals are hopeful those numbers will translate to enhanced success on the course this fall.
“I am really happy with how the race went,” Olson said. “I think our team is promising with three kids in the top six of the race. We were also missing our fourth runner, so as soon as we can get him I think we should be pretty solid.
“Personally, I surprised myself. I did a little bit less speed work than last summer, so I wasn’t expecting to come in as fast as I did. That just gives me more confidence for the season because I know that I have a lot of room to improve. Every summer, I have tweaked my training based on how it worked the past year. It is hard to balance skiing and running, but I think I have had the smartest summer of training so far. I would definitely say the 16-minute barrier was in the back of my head going into the race, but I wasn’t going to be bummed out if I missed it.”
Blaine ended the meet in third place as a team, close behind Andover and Champlin Park.
Sophomore Tyler Anderson earned fifth place overall in 17:10.3, with junior Nicholas Jacobson right behind him in sixth in 17:23.3.
“Tyler had a great debut race,” Karel said. “He is new to cross country and is fitting in just perfectly on the team and in the sport in general. He’s only a 10th-grader, but he has been on my radar since he was in seventh grade, and we’re thrilled to have him on the team.
“Nic was new last year as a sophomore, and now he knows how to race cross country. Nic’s time was his lifetime best, first race of the season. We love starting our season on the Anoka course, since that’s our Section 5AA course, and Nic raced just as I hoped he would.”
Andover takes team crown
Senior Tom Breuckman was not far behind Olson, earning runner-up honors in 16:17.8 to help lead Andover to the team title.
Joe Huffman (17:09.4), Carter Weinzierl (17:59.4) and Bradley Chasteen (18:08.9) all finished in the top 10 as well.
“We were very excited with the performance of our seniors,” Andover head coach Scott Clark said. “They have put in very impressive summers. Tom, Joe and Brad all ran personal bests and Carter just a couple of seconds off his best.”
Senior Paul Breitbach was the top placer for Coon Rapids, earning third place in 16:54.8.
Also reaching the top 20 for the Cardinals were Noah Christiansen (18:18.7), Reed Smith (18:28.4) and Nick Jorgenson (18:36.3).
“The boys team did all right for the first race of the year,” Coon Rapids head coach Denny Green said. “They were fourth out of five, but the scores even to first were pretty close, so not that far out of winning. Could have done better, though, and that is one of the things that is common with our kids: start slowly and build to the section meet at the end.
“There were a couple of them that have been running better and didn’t do as well, but they are still young and still learning what they can do and even how to race. We were also missing one that could be in our top five, which could have possibly changed our spot, so we will see how things progress at our next meet.”
Anoka finished in fifth place, led by back-to-back finishes by Connor Loreno in 11th place in 18:16.2 and Elijah Grabinske in 12th place in 18:18.5.
“The boys are a young team, both in terms of age and varsity experience, so this season will be a growing process,” Anoka head coach Pete Tremaine said. “It will definitely be fun watching them push each other.”