3 Minn. runners hope to realize Olympic dreams

Hassan Mead, David Pachuta and Harun Abda will race at the U.S. Olympic trials for a spot on the national team.

by Megan Ryan

For three Gophers track and field athletes, the Olympic dream is only one meet away.

Hassan Mead, David Pachuta and Harun Abda will compete at the U.S. Olympic trials June 21 through July 1 in Eugene, Ore., and aim to make the national team.

Pachuta and Abda will race in the 800-meter run. If they progress past the first round Friday, they’ll compete in the semifinal the next day with a chance to make the June 25 final.

Mead will focus on his primary event, the 10,000 meters, Friday and possibly compete in the 5,000 meters as well on June 28.

All three runners agreed on one thing — the Olympics are the ultimate dream.

Pachuta and Abda said they want to rebound at the trials from their disappointing NCAA championships.

Although they had the last two qualifying times, they missed the final because they didn’t finish high enough in their heat.

“I feel like we both have a little chip on our shoulder, have something to prove,” Pachuta said. “I think the trials [set] up really well for both of us to run some fast times.”

“It’s obviously frustrating, but when it comes down to it we should have performed better,” Pachuta said.

Assistant coach Paul Thornton said the trials are a chance at redemption for the two middle-distance runners.

“Even though they had two lifetime [personal records] in the 800 meters at the NCAA meet, they walked away with an empty feeling of not placing,” Thornton said. “I think that they both can go there and [set a] lifetime [personal record] again.”

Abda said he feels pressure to perform at the trials but will try to accept whatever the outcome is.

“It’s like every runner’s dream to go to the Olympics,” Abda said. “Even if I didn’t [make it], I have more chances. It’s good experience just to go there and compete against the best athletes in the country.”

Distance legacy

Mead already has Olympic trials experience. He competed in 2008 for a chance to make the Beijing Games and fell just short in the 5,000-meter final.

“The experience always helps, definitely,” Mead said. “I think I have a greater idea of what it’s going to be like.”

Four years ago, Mead didn’t qualify for the trials until the NCAA championships a few weeks before, he said. This year, he qualified in April and had more time to prepare.

“I’m done with collegiate eligibility now,” Mead said. “This is a major step in terms of approach and getting to the next level and trying to survive in post-collegiate running.”

Head coach Steve Plasencia is another advantage Mead has heading into trials. Plasencia competed in two Olympic Games.

“You’re going to go out to a situation where Hayward Field is going to be full, and there’s a lot of eyes on what’s going on,” Plasencia said. “Just to get that first race under your belt is important.”

Decathlete Jack Szmanda also qualified for the trials, but he will skip the meet to recover from an ankle injury.