Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Grayson's Kirubel Erassa is the Daily Post's Runner of the Year after winning the 1,600-meter state championship.
Two months ago, Grayson coach Rob Blaskiewicz didn't know if Kirubel Erassa would run during the track and field season.
Erassa had just come off a cross country state championship in the fall and won a national indoor track title in Boston. Then he pulled his right hamstring in a meet at Georgia Tech.
"There was times in early April when I didn't know if he would run at region or state," Blaskiewicz said.
Erassa spent every morning icing his hamstring and although he was never 100 percent healthy, he still turned in an impressive season. The Daily Post's Runner of the Year repeated as the Class AAAAA 1,600-meter state champion, setting one of the top times in Georgia history.
"I'm not the old Kirubel. At Boston I was very healthy, but it took three weeks to get better," Erassa said. "I just wanted to come back so bad and it was my last season."
Erassa missed nearly the entire track season, but returned in time for the Region 8-AAAAA meet and qualified for state. He won both region titles and cemented his mark at the state meet in Jefferson as one of the top runners in Georgia history.
The senior won the 1,600 with a time of 4 minutes, 8.24 seconds for the second fastest time in state meet history. It's also the third fastest time in the country this year.
"There wasn't nearly as much excitement as last year watching him win," Blaskiewicz said. "It's kind of strange, you kind of get used to watching him win."
"Running a 4:08 is not easy," Erassa said. "I wish I could have gone faster, but it was not meant to be."
The next day Erassa took second in the 3,200 to Brookwood's Tyler Anyan, the defending state champion. Both runners finished in under nine minutes in what was described as the best race ever at the meet. Anyan won the title with a time of 8:52.83 and Erassa had a time of 8:56.46, the second and seventh fastest times in the country.
"Put it this way, nobody broke nine minutes in 36 years at the state meet and two did in one day," Blaskiewicz said.
It was the only race Erassa lost during his senior year after going undefeated in cross country and in a limited track campaign.
"I always want a fast time and I'm not worried about being undefeated," Erassa said. "Anyone can win, I just want a fast time."
Erassa is fascinated by record times. He knows most of the state records in the distance events by heart. He already holds every Grayson school record in the 1,600 and 3,200. He has the second fastest time at the cross country state meet, the second fastest mile at the AAAAA meet and the third fastest two-mile at state. His eighth-place finish at Footlocker Nationals is tied for the best finish ever by a Georgian.
"Last year I won the 1,600 and nobody will remember that," Erassa said. "But if you break a record your name will be forever."
Erassa played soccer his freshman year and didn't want to stop competing so he went out for the track team. He ran the mile on the JV and broke five minutes, but puked right afterwards.
His teammates and coaches told him to go out for the cross country and he replied "What is that?" He had top 15 placements as a sophomore in cross country, but didn't do so well at state, finishing 39th.
With the encouragement from Berkmar grad Girma Mecheso, who is at Oklahoma State, Erassa started training more and that led to a breakthrough track season as a sophomore. He won the 3,200 state title and took third in the 1,600. Erassa and Mecheso will be teammates at Oklahoma State next season, the defending cross country national champions.
Originally from Ethiopia, Erassa moved to the U.S. in middle school. He became a U.S. citizen in January and hopes to represent the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics.
"He used to talk about the Olympics last year," Blaskiewicz said. "I thought he was a good runner, but I didn't think much of it. But he's at a point now where it wouldn't surprise me to see him in the Olympics. He's not done yet."