Good at basketball, great at running

Hassan Mead
Hassan Mead (l) and Gary Wilson Photo by Charles Hallman

Hall of Fame Olympian now runs for a living

I’m sure that there are plenty of sports journalists who can claim they know Hall of Famers (HOFs), but how many can say they knew them long before they got so honored? That’s a list I have made this year.

Tonyus Chavers (Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame) and Katie Smith (Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame) both were inducted this summer. The former I knew when she coached North High girls’ basketball, and I covered and got to know the latter during her Minnesota Lynx playing years. My personal trifecta occurred on the last Saturday of September.

Hassan Mead was among four inductees in the Roy Griak Hall of Fame. He ran cross country, indoor and outdoor track for Minnesota (2007-11) and still holds four school records in the 8,000 meters (cross country), 5,000 meters indoors, 5,000 and 10,000 meters outdoors.

On the outdoor award stage during the annual Griak Invitational cross country event at the Les Bolstad Golf Course in St. Paul, Mead quickly spotted this journalist in the crowd. We first met in the Minneapolis South gym midway through his junior year in the mid-2000s.

The six-foot, long and lean young man was shooting baskets. Mead and his family had recently moved to the Cities from Seattle, and the Somalia-born teenager had just enrolled at South.

After a one-day tryout, Mead made the South junior varsity basketball team — he couldn’t play varsity due to transfer rules. He easily fit in with his new teammates despite joining the squad with barely a month or so left that season, which was the only time I got to coach him.

He could play ball, but he also could run like a Christopher Cross song — like the wind. He also realized that running might get him a college scholarship.

“Running was a thing I did because I was good at it,” Mead recalled. “A friend and the [South] coaching staff convinced me that it was more than running. I could take advantage and go to college at a Division I institution and run for them. When I heard that as a 17-year-old, it was a key to opening doors, and to this day [it is] still unlocking doors.”

The “U” offered the young running machine a scholarship. He won the Griak individual title as a South senior in 2006 as well as the state Class AA cross country title, and he set a state record that year as well. He won the Griak again in 2009.

Mead became the first-ever Gopher freshman to be All-American, and he made it eight more times before he left the school with a communications degree. Mead later ran for the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics, and last year he won the 10,000 meters at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships.

Now running professionally and living in Eugene, Oregon, Mead said humbly of his accomplishments, “I get to see the world…”

“Hassan always has been one of my all-time favorites,” said former Gopher women’s track coach Gary Wilson, who was inducted into the Griak Hall with Mead. “He’s a special kid, so humble.”

“Getting selected to the Hall of Fame is probably second to the Olympics,” Mead surmised. “It speaks of [my] hometown and how it supported me. It’s an honor to be on this list.”

When told that he made another list as well as the first Hall-of-Famer I ever coached, Mead responded, “That’s awesome. I think this is a first for me [as well].”