Edwin Klanke had been waiting for the moment to toe the line at the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships once again.
The first two times the talented St. Peter’s Prep junior competed in the county championships, Klanke didn’t have memorable experiences – although both were solid efforts that would have pleased many other runners, just not Klanke.
As a freshman in 2017, Klanke tried to keep early pace with McNair Academic’s brilliant harrier Fahd Nasser (currently running for Princeton University) and did so for about two miles, but couldn’t keep up.
Nasser, who that year enjoyed a cross country season for the ages, eventually becoming the first Hudson County runner to qualify for the Foot Locker National Championships, won the race, setting a new county record of 15:30 in the process. Klanke finished sixth in 16:23.
Last year, Klanke thought he had the race won. In perhaps the most competitive HCTCA boys’ championship ever, Klanke hit the running track at Stephen Gregg Memorial Hudson County Park in Bayonne with a short lead over Francis Martingale of Memorial and Benedictus Bago of Snyder. The three young men literally ran together, stride for stride, for the better part of the race. It was amazing to watch with a thrilling finish for the ages.
But with about 100 meters left in the race, Martingale put it in an extra gear.
“We all waited until the final mile, but Francis just outkicked me in the last 100 meters,” Klanke said of Martingale. “I don’t know what happened. I just had nothing left.”
Klanke finished second by less than a half of a second.
“It was disappointing,” Klanke said. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”
Unfortunately, Klanke’s woes in the cross country season eventually carried over to the outdoor season in the spring. Klanke suffered a stress fracture in his shin that sent him to the sidelines for the remainder of the season.
“I couldn’t do anything,” Klanke said. “I felt like I let everyone on the team down.”
St. Peter’s Prep head coach Chris Caulfield was hopeful to have the dominant Klanke this cross country season.
“He was just a little off,” Caulfield said of the beginning of Klanke’s cross country season. “He was having a rough season. There was a lot of pressure on him being the top ranked junior in the state.”
As the HCTCA championships approached, Klanke started to feel better about himself and about his ability.
“I was healthy and I was feeling good about myself,” Klanke said. “I had a lot of confidence. It was a good day with perfect conditions. I was mentally good.”
However, there was only one problem. Klanke really didn’t have much competition this year. Past performances had Klanke a good 45 seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
“Francis got the record last year and I thought it was my record to have,” Klanke said. “So I just said, ‘Let’s go set the county record today.’ Instead of competing with other people, I had to compete with myself.”
Prep assistant coach Gerry McCann (the former Jersey City Mayor) had a broad sheet with all the fractions that they wanted Klanke to hit every step of the race. If Klanke was going to break the record, he was going to have to shatter those fractions at every point – the half mile, the mile, the two mile and so on.
“I think 15:20 was the goal,” Caulfield said. “But I didn’t know whether he could. He was having some issues before this race. He wasn’t running the races the way we thought he would.”
Last Saturday, Klanke went out from the start and gradually pulled away from the rest of the 86-man field. He had some early company from Union City’s Ruben Gonzalo, but when Klanke turned it on, he morphed into a machine.
Klanke ran every step of the race at a sub five-minute mile pace (actually 4:56 per mile) and obliterated the field, gradually increasing his lead with every majestic stride. He was ahead by 1,000 meters by the first mile and won by 1,500 meters by the race’s end, crossing the finish line in a new county meet record of 15:19, some nine seconds better than Martingale’s record a year ago. Klanke was just incredible – but it marked the third straight year that the county record fell after standing the test of time for more than 30 years.
“He absolutely gained redemption today,” Caulfield said. “Today he proved that he is that runner with the high expectations. He ran like the best junior in the state.”
Klanke defeated teammate Rodolfo Sanchez, who was second in 16:11. Imagine winning the county championship by almost a full minute? That never happens.
For his efforts, Klanke has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Klanke said that he was more than ready.
“It was all mental,” Klanke said. “I was running against myself. When I was a freshman, I wanted to be in the top five. As a sophomore, I wanted to be in the top three. But this year, I had to be the one that everyone was after.”
Klanke will now move on to the NJSIAA Non-Public A race in two weeks and then take a run at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions a week after that, with both races at Holmdel Park. With a performance like the one Klanke unleashed Saturday, there is no denying his chances of winning the Group championship and maybe the whole ball of wax.
“I’m really excited for that,” Klanke said. “It’s only going to get better from here. Doing it for myself is one thing. I think we can win it as an entire team. We have a great bond as a team and we motivate each other a lot. Maybe I can go 15:40 at Holmdel and maybe I can go 15:10 here next year.”
Yes, Klanke is only a junior, so colleges will have another year to watch him dominate, as long as he stays healthy. – Jim Hague