A long-legged freshman started his track and field career as a sprinter four years ago for St. Croix Lutheran. A few meets in, the coaches decided to put Jon Tollefson into a hurdles event, just to see how it would go, Tollefson said.
“They threw me in the 300s first,” said Tollefson, who graduated this past spring. “I just won the race the first time they put me in it.
“They kind of realized this could be something special.”
That might be an understatement.
Tollefson went on to become a three-time defending Class 1A champion in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. In the 110-meter event this spring, he ran a time of 14.61 seconds in the finals and 13.92 in prelims for a Class 1A record. He finished first in the 300 at 37.96 seconds.
He took fourth at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet in June with a time of 13.66 seconds for the 110-meter hurdles.
As a defending state champion in both his junior and senior seasons, Tollefson felt the pressure. It’s a balancing act of being scared and living up to the expectation of success vs. just enjoying the race.
“I kind of had to fight that feeling,” he said. “The psychology behind sports is sometimes huge.”
Whatever Tollefson did to manage the pressure, it worked, as he hurdled his way to three consecutive state championships. He finished his last 300-meter event with what he called “an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.”
His success was evident as early as freshman year. He took second in his first-ever 110 meter hurdles and placed seventh in the event at the state meet in 2012, with a time of 15.89 seconds. After that, Tollefson knew hurdles was something he should pursue.
“That kind of inspired me,” he said. “That’s kind of when I went track-crazy.”
He set goals. He worked on technique and lifted weights. He did his research, reading up on nutrition and what Olympic athletes eat and how they train.
Running hurdles was just natural for the 6-4 athlete. Tollefson, track and field coach Brent Schacht and track teammate Jake Buller all mentioned his “God-given ability” when it comes to his height and speed running hurdles. Tollefson has a combination of tremendous speed in between hurdles and technique that Schacht hasn’t seen before.
“The last two or three hurdles, he really puts it into another gear,” Schacht said.
Besides the talent, it’s Tollefson’s work ethic that separates him from other athletes, Buller said.
“When you see someone working really hard … that work ethic is kind of contagious to the rest of the team,” Buller said.
Schacht has coached St. Croix Lutheran since the 1994 season. He called Tollefson the best hurdler the team has ever had.
“To win a state championship three years in a row … I’m not sure that’s ever going to be duplicated,” Schacht said. “That’s a special accomplishment.”
Tollefson will attend Harvard this fall and run hurdles for the track team. He might have his sights on something else, too: the Olympics. He humbly said it’s hard to admit to someone that yes, he wants to go to the Olympics.
“It’s just such a huge honor,” he said. “I think it’s in the back of every track athlete’s mind.”
According to standards for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for men’s track and field, a time of 13.52 seconds in the 110 hurdles would qualify. Remember, Tollefson hit 13.66 seconds at nationals this summer.
There’s no question Tollefson has the drive to get to the Olympics, according to Schacht.
“He’s certainly one of the top hurdlers in the whole nation,” Schacht said. “I would not put it past him.”