When Hopkins junior Joe Fahnbulleh grabbed the baton from teammate Sam Leervig for the final leg of the 4x200 relay at the Hamline Elite Meet, the question on the minds of those in attendance at Klas Stadium quickly changed.
It was no longer who was going to win the April 27 race, but how fast the Royals were going to go.
The answer: Faster than every other 4x200 relay in meet and school history. After sub-23 second splits by King Allah (22.6) and Jaylen Champion (22.2), Leervig and Fahnbulleh closed with matching 21.1 splits for a winning time of 1 minute, 27.19 seconds, nearly 3½ seconds ahead of runner-up Rocori and within 0.28 of a second of the state record.
Running against the clock, Fahnbulleh never thought about letting up as he streaked down the home stretch 30 meters ahead of the rest of the field.
“I wasn’t worried about any other teams. I was worried about cutting down that time and doing my job the most efficient way possible,” said Fahnbulleh, who earned all-state honors in three events last season.
“When I get the baton it’s a feeling of ‘This seems familiar. This is what we do.’ We trust one another, so when the baton passes from King to Jaylen to Sam to me, it’s just effortless, silky smooth.”
That chemistry didn’t develop overnight. The Hopkins sprinters gained experience together last season and spent all winter training after school, focusing on running mechanics and participating in weightlifting, cardio workouts and resistance exercises.
They’ve carried that over to their in-season work with sprint coaches Craig Telshaw and Austin Salargo, both Hopkins alumni. Telshaw has coached the Royals sprinters since 1981, including Salargo during his standout career.
“Craig Telshaw has helped establish a culture of speed and commitment to relays. Now Austin is back with the program and has helped elevate it, so that’s been pretty cool to see,” said coach Nick Lovas, who has coached track at Hopkins since 2009. “If you look at the list of the top 4x200 relays in the state of Minnesota, I think we have seven or eight of the top 40, so it’s absolutely a tradition.”
That tradition is being carried on by Fahnbulleh and his teammates. Shortly after anchoring the 4x200 at the Elite Meet, Fahnbulleh, running anchor, and Allah joined forces with sophomore Tyrone Bennett and freshman George Jackson for a victory in the 4x100.
“It’s great to have the competition that we have just to make our relays. That competition within makes everybody better,” Lovas said. “The kids want to make the relays and not just run for themselves.”
With two relay gold medals already, Fahnbulleh closed out the meet by besting a talented field in the 200 with a time of 21.68 that broke his own school record. A seventh-place finisher in the 100 at last season’s state meet, Fahnbulleh hasn’t changed his approach now that he’s focusing on the 200.
“I still want to be the fastest. I believe I’m a better 200 runner than 100 runner because my starts aren’t that great,” Fahnbulleh said. “Once I get up and running and my stride is at full potential, I’m running like the wind. The 100 is too short to get me going.”
Now that Fahnbulleh is focusing on the 200, he has some big goals in mind.
“My goal by my senior year, hopefully this year, is to break the Minnesota state record in the 200. If I can do that, it will give me confidence and reassurance that I can run in college,” he said. “It will be the first step in my journey.”