EUGENE – Ahmed Muhumed stopped being the nice guy long enough to win a state championship.
And then, of course, he went back to being the nice guy.
West Salem High School’s star junior turned in a brilliant performance Saturday, patiently letting a big group of other runners stay with him until the final 1,000 meters when he broke away from the pack to win the OSAA Class 6A state cross country championship.
“Unbelievable,” Muhumed said. “After all the work I’ve done, I think it pays off. And it did today so that’s why I’m very proud of myself to do all that I’ve done to get here.”
Muhumed completed the 5,000-meter course at Lane Community College in 15:38, two seconds in front of West Linn senior Roman Ollar and six seconds in front of Forest Grove senior Murimi Nyamu.
Considering the top six runners at the meet were seniors, Muhumed’s finish sets a high standard.
“Him winning today pretty much ends it for a lot of people for the next two years,” West Salem coach Tom Jimenez said. “He’s going to be really tough to beat now.”
The last person from a Salem-Keizer school to win a big school cross country state championship was Darin Rabb of Sprague in 1989.
Muhumed becomes the third boy from Salem to win a big school state championship in cross country and the fourth athlete from Salem to win it.
“That was one of my motivations, actually, coming into this race,” Muhumed said. “I knew if I actually won I would be that guy, and that’s just a wonderful thing because not a lot of guys come from Salem win state championships.”
For a large portion of Saturday’s race, though, the only way Muhumed stood out was his neon green clothing.
At the 2-mile mark there were 25 runners within two seconds of each other in the lead pack, and Muhumed patiently hung in the middle of it.
“I was expecting that to be only the first mile,” Muhumed said. “Things changed. I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting six or seven of us after the mile.”
When the lead pack came up the hill for the last time he waited until he got his breath back and started working toward the front of the pack.
Then he left no doubt.
Muhumed took off from the pack with 1,000 meters to go and led the field by 30 meters by the time he got to the track with 300 meters to go.
Ollar closed on him down the front stretch, but Muhumed could not be caught.
“I think we’ve always seen him as being so good and so talented and should have run before, and I think in his head he didn’t see what the rest of us saw,” Jimenez said.
Muhumed’s finish, combined with a strong 32nd place finish from Hunter Mosman, helped West Salem to a 13th place team finish.
In the girls race, South Salem freshman Anna Chau was impressive.
The freshman picked up two spots in the final 1,000 meters to place fourth in a time of 18:35.
“I’m just so happy that I finished off my season well and I’m looking forward to next year,” Chau said.
Chau had a goal of placing in the top five, but the lead pack, including eventual state champion Ella Donaghu of Grant, took off too quickly.
“I really wanted to stay in the front pack,” Chau said. “But the first mile I just wasn’t feeling it. I gradually kept making up distance to get in the front pack again.”
Sprague freshman Ginger Murnieks placed 14th in 19:03, West Salem’s Brooke Chuhlantseff placed 15th in 19:05 and North Salem’s Madison Willhoft placed 17th in 19:09.
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or Twitter.com/bpoehler