Mead running away from the pack

The junior is already among the best Minnesota athletes in history.

Max Sanders

Hassan Mead is building one of the most prolific collegiate athletic résumés in the history of the University of Minnesota. A five-time All-American, Mead also has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, All-Big Ten first team (twice), 2008 Big Ten and Midwest Region individual Champion and Big Ten runner of the year. He also holds the school record in the eight-kilometer run with a time of 23:33. He did all of that by the end of his sophomore year. Mead, who was born in Somalia, immigrated to the United States with his family in 2000. MeadâÄôs parents and sister moved to Minnesota, while he lived with his uncle in California and Washington. Adjusting to the United States was something that took Mead, who was 11 at the time, a while to get used to. âÄúI was pretty young, so it took about two years just to get used to the whole culture and the atmosphere and the language; the kind of understanding of people,âÄù Mead said. Cross country and track were not MeadâÄôs sports of choice growing up. Basketball was MeadâÄôs first love, but the talent he showed in cross country, along with the doors it would open financially with scholarships, left Mead focusing on running. Competing as a junior in high school, Mead finished 10th in the Washington state cross country meet in Washington. Soon after, Mead transferred to Minneapolis South High School , in time to compete in the track season. By the conclusion of his high school career, Mead was a Class AA cross country champion, with a time of 15:10.7 in the 5K âÄî a state record. When it came time to pick a college, one of the factors Mead considered was a school with a running program that would allow him to transition smoothly to the collegiate level. âÄúThe program [at Minnesota] was building where you could slowly develop and get used to being on that level,âÄù Mead said. âÄúHaving Chris Rombough as a teammate made a lot of things easier.âÄù Rombough being around from the start provided immediate benefits to Mead in his freshman year. âÄúWhen you have someone thatâÄôs an All-American two times, all you can do is open your ears and listen,âÄù Mead said. âÄúHim telling me what itâÄôs like definitely gives you a heads up.âÄù For Rombough, the chance to work with a runner of MeadâÄôs skill is something he gladly welcomed. âÄúIâÄôm the type of guy who looks at another top guy coming in not as competition but as a cooperation type of thing,âÄù Rombough said. âÄúI did some workouts with him, built a really good friendship with him, and from there I guess the rest is history.âÄù When Mead first arrived at Minnesota, menâÄôs head coach Steve Plasencia wasnâÄôt sure if two runners the caliber of Rombough and Mead would be able to run together. âÄúAs a coach I was wondering, âÄòAm I going to deal with two egos?âÄô âÄú Plasencia said. âÄúIt hasnâÄôt been that way; itâÄôs Gophers first. Those guys have been very respectful, supportive and good fans of each other from the time they got here.âÄù While runners are normally eased into racing at the collegiate level, with many redshirting to gain experience, Mead started from the get-go as a true freshman. âÄúI think Coach just realized my talent, and thereâÄôs no reason to hold it back if I was able to compete,âÄù Mead said. In his freshman year, Mead became the first freshman cross country runner in Minnesota history to be named an All-American. He also received the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award and the team co-MVP award âÄî an award he shared with Rombough who was a junior at the time. The ease with which Mead achieved success so early in his collegiate career was something that caught everyone âÄî including Mead âÄî by surprise. âÄúI was shocked, too, because it wasnâÄôt that difficult,âÄù Mead said. âÄúIt got to the point where it was just competitiveness.âÄù At the cross country NCAA Championships, Mead has improved each year, finishing 43rd as a freshman and 31st during his sophomore campaign. Now in his junior season, he has his sights set on an even better finish. âÄúFinishing in the top 10,âÄù Mead said. âÄúWhen I look at the guys that finished up there, I competed against them. If I stay healthy and peak at the right time, that should be the goal for me âĦ top 10.âÄù Last year, Mead participated in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing 18th in the 5K event with a time of 14:07 âÄî over a minute better than his Minnesota state high school record time. The experience of competing in the Olympic Trials against the elite runners in the world is something Mead wonâÄôt soon forget. âÄúThat was [an] insane experience,âÄù Mead said. âÄúI was in shock with the NCAA [Championships] making it to the finals, but then being able to compete at the Olympic level, racing against Bernard Lagat and all the world-class [runners], it was something else that you can only get a once in a lifetime chance.âÄù As for the 2012 Olympics: âÄúIf IâÄôm healthy and IâÄôm running fast, definitely itâÄôs a dream,âÄù he said. Mead knows this collegiate season will present a unique set of challenges with such a young team. The loss of Rombough in cross country means it is now MeadâÄôs turn to do what Rombough did for him: lead. âÄúIâÄôm [going to] do the same thing Chris did,âÄù Mead said. âÄúTell them what I know, teach them what I was taught from Rombough, share my experience with them, what it feels like in competition. TheyâÄôll take that into their arms and compete.âÄù The first competition of the cross country season that Mead will compete in is the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 26 . Mead has his âÄî and the teamâÄôs âÄî goals set high for the meet. âÄúIâÄôd like to finally see a Gopher uniform win the Griak, definitely as a team and as an individual,âÄù Mead said. As for Plasencia, he knows that come race-day, Mead will be ready. âÄúI know HassanâÄôs a stone cold racer and when it comes time to race, heâÄôs ready, and you donâÄôt mess with that,âÄù Plasencia said.