Sherman Column – Joe Klecker is ready to reach for the stars
This fall I covered the state cross country meet for the 41st consecutive year. That isn’t the point of this column, of course. The point is I was there to watch a rising star.
After the state Class AA boys race Nov. 3 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, the last thing I said to Hopkins sophomore Joe Klecker was, “In all the years I have watched the sport, I have never seen an athlete improve more in the course of a year than you have.”
Two Klecker brothers ran in the state last fall. John, now running at Augustana College, finished ninth. Joe finished 54th.
When Joe finished third this year with a 5K time of 15:25.8, a lot of people were surprised. He zoomed ahead of two other premier Lake Conference runners, Connor Olson of Wayzata and Will Burke of Edina.
Klecker has two advantages that most high school runners don’t have – his parents.
Joe’s mom, Janis (Horns) Klecker, was a U.S. Olympic marathoner. Joe’s dad, Barney Klecker, was a champion in his own right and once held the world record for the 50-mile run.
Barney is responsible for giving Joe the blueprint for becoming a champion. But it is Joe who has to do the work.
“All I can do is say here’s the recipe, now go bake the cookies,” said Barney. “If Joe stays healthy, I believe he could be in the 14s every race next year.”
The 14s? Really?
That is uncharted territory for Minnesota boys cross country runners. To put it in perspective, Wayde Hall of Stillwater won the state Class AA title this year with a 15:21. In 2011, Wayzata’s Josh Thorson ran the St. Olaf course in 15:29, which was 10 seconds faster than the second-place time.
You would have to go way back in history to find anyone who could even think about the 14s. Maybe Garry Bjorklund, an Olympic-caliber runner from Proctor.
Hassan Mead of Minneapolis South High set the state meet 5K boys record in 2006 at St. Olaf with a time of 15:10.7
The quantum leap
From the 2011 state meet to this year’s state meet, Joe’s time at St. Olaf improved by 1 minute, 9 seconds.
If he improves by half that much next year, he would indeed be running in the high 14s.
It will be interesting to watch his progress, as well as the progress of Richfield’s Obsa Ali, the only underclassman to defeat Klecker at the state meet. Ali, who finished second, is a junior.
More on the Kleckers
Senior Sarah Klecker and eighth-grader Elizabeth “Bit” Klecker were two of the top runners for the Hopkins High girls cross country team this year.
John Klecker is the eighth man on the Augustana College men’s team, which won an NCAA Division II region title recently. Mary Klecker is the No. 3 runner on the Augsburg women’s team.
John will return from college to train with Joe this summer, Barney noted. That means someone that is equally committed to becoming a champion will push Joe in his workouts.