DES MOINES - Marshalltown's Imad Amenzou's route to the Drake Relays could not have been any more improbable.
The Bobcat senior spent the last three seasons playing goalkeeper for the MHS junior varsity soccer team and was mainly a soccer player before he and his family came to the United States from Africa four years ago.
Amenzou didn't speak very good English during his freshman year and he struggled a bit with academics.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Marshalltown senior Imad Amenzou ran in the top-six after the first mile of the 3,200-meter run but fell back in the final few laps to finish in 14th overall at the 105th Drake Relays on Thursday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. His first-ever time on the blue oval was clocked at 9 minutes, 35.42 seconds, which was more than 2 seconds faster than his qualifying time.
That was until last spring when he discovered running. He approached Bobcat boys cross country coach Chad Pietig at his spring meeting and expressed interest in joining the harrier program in the fall.
Even though Amenzou didn't officially start practice until the first day of school, he became the team's No. 1 runner and that success has carried into the high school track and field season.
And after making his first appearance in the 105th Drake Relays and claiming a 14th-place finish in the 3,200-meter run Thursday, the ceiling couldn't be higher for the Bobcat senior.
3,200 - 1. Albert Meier, Boone, 8:58.46; 2. Josh Evans, Linn-Mar, 9:01.55; 3. Thomas Pollard, Gilbert, 9:04.85; 4. Michael Melchert, Monticello, 9:19.78; 5. Daniel Gardarsson, Iowa City West, 9:24.04; 6. Spencer Clark, Dowling Catholic, 9:26.04; 7. Mitch Pritts, CR Prairie, 9:27.76; 8. Daniel Murphy, Linn-Mar, 9:28.41; 9. Eli Kaczinski, Northeast, 9:29.87; 10. Ryan Tunink, Waukee, 9:31.09; 11. Timothy Sevcik, Cedar Falls, 9:31.63; 12. Mark Fairley, Dubuque Senior, 9:32.16; 13. Chandler Austin, Boone, 9:34.21; 14. Imad Amenzou, Marshalltown, 9:35.42; 15. Drew Hershey, Johnston, 9:35.81; 16. Josh Yeager, Center Point-Urbana, 9:36.87; 17. Daniel Soto, WDM Valley, 9:38.24; 18. Mason Tope, Davenport Central, 9:39.13; 19. Isaiah Vlasek, CR Prairie, 9:48.04; 20. Tanner Rathje, Linn-Mar, 9:48.33; 21. Jonathan Smith, Cedar Falls, 9:51.54.
"This was my first time here and it was a good experience," said Amenzou. "Those guys up front are fast. I don't really know what happened today."
What happened to Amenzou is something all inexperienced runners struggle with. He got out too fast and couldn't maintain the pace for a full two miles.
"In some ways, he just went out too fast," said MHS coach Mark Chardoulias. "He wants to win and thinks he can win every race, but I just don't think he has enough of a base to run with some of those guys in the front that have been running for most of their lives."
Amenzou stayed up in the lead pack for the first mile but slowly fell off the pace during the final 1,600 meters. He ended up with a time of 9 minutes, 35.42 seconds, which was more than 2 seconds faster than his qualifying time. He ran his first mile in 4:37.
He was sixth after two laps and then maintained his sixth-place standing after four trips around the blue oval. He dropped back three slots after the fifth lap and slowly backtracked from there.
But the end result was still impressive for the future North Iowa Area Community College runner who continues to develop on the track.
"I try to use my strategy for every race, but it just didn't work today," said Amenzou. "I am always in the top six after the first mile, and today I was, but I couldn't hold it. I just didn't have it today. I got tired."
Amenzou ran against one of the best 3,200 fields in the history of the event. Fifteen of the 21 runners were from Class 4A and Amenzou finished ninth amongst that field.
The winner was Class 3A Boone's Albert Meier, who became the first-ever Iowa distance runner to eclipse 9 minutes with a record 8:58.46.
Josh Evans of 4A Linn-Mar was second with a 9:01.55, while Gilbert's Thomas Pollard (9:04.85) was third, Monticello's Michael Melchert (9:19.78) took fourth and Iowa City West's Daniel Gardarsson (9:24.04) ended up fifth.
Ottumwa's Kevin Lewis, who now runs at the University of Iowa, had the previous Drake Relays record of 9:05.58.
"Some of those guys are really fast," admitted Amenzou. "I just need to stop thinking so much and just relax and go out and run."
Amenzou will get another chance on the blue oval when he competes in the 1,600 meters at 1:02 p.m. Saturday.
"He is still learning how to run but is a diamond in the rough for NIACC," said Chardoulias. "He's been tremendous for us this year."
The 14th-place finish didn't do much to Amenzou's confidence. He still expects to win the race Saturday.
"My goal is to win. That is always the goal," said Amenzou. "I am going to give everything I have and hopefully it'll be a better result."