Temperatures reached the low 90s on Saturday, the second day of last weekend's Class 2A state track and field meet at Hamline University in St. Paul, yet Blaine senior Ayuk Tambe wore a gray stocking hat on his head.
Just below, a first-place medal hung from a blue ribbon. Without the hat, Tambe said, there would be no medal.
"I don't know what it is, but every meet I just have to have it," Tambe said. "It first started out as style, but then as time went on, it bothered me before a race if I didn't have it. Every time I wear it I just feel unstoppable."
No one could stop Tambe from defending his 100-meter dash title in a school-record time of 10.79 seconds. He also anchored Blaine's fourth-place 4x100 relay.
But his senior season tested him. Hampered much of the spring by an ailing hamstring, Tambe recovered just in time to finish strong. He capped an emotional season by spreading his arms in elation moments before crossing the finish line a repeat champion.
Tambe, not your prototypical sprinter, stands 5-4 but gets out of the blocks fast and stays ahead of taller opponents. He did not lose a 100 as a junior.
"He has an amazing turnover and a great first 50 meters," Bengals coach Rob Nick said.
Tambe spoke with Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about fighting through injury and the joy of winning a second title.
Q Talk about the ups and down you experienced this season.
A I had a really bad season early on. I pulled my hamstring in practice and it kept me out three weeks. At the conference meet it wasn't fully healed yet and I tweaked it during the middle of the 100 and I ended up getting last place.
Q How did you get yourself healthy in time for sections and state?
A I started taking care of myself and doing what I'm supposed to do. I wore sweatpants and warmed up really well. My coach gave me a sleeve to put around my leg that keeps your hamstring tight. I wore it at sections and I had a good race.
Q The 100 is such a short race, but did you have any sort of strategy?
A My coach told me to get out good because my start is the best part of my race. I accelerate really well. After the false start I didn't get out good so I had some room to make up. But I stayed relaxed and passed the guy. I actually celebrated before I got to the finish line. I was so excited.
Q Is what they say true about how much harder it is to win a second title ?
A Yeah. Coming into my senior season I had more confidence because I was the defending state champ. But every year isn't the same and athletes improve. I knew I couldn't sleep on anyone. I knew I had work to do. Winning state is one thing. Defending it is harder.
Q Beyond people gunning for you, did overcoming your injuries also make this victory sweeter?
A Oh yeah. Winning made putting my body through all that worth it. Sometimes you've got to go through pain to get to the pleasure.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574