Former Jamestown High School cross country coach Mike Harris brought Hopkins, Minnesota native Joe Klecker to Jamestown 10 years ago.

A decade later, what some saw in the Buffalo City will be showcased on a world stage.

"I brought Joe Klecker to Jamestown -- when he was a little eighth-grader," Harris, the current head coach for the Hopkins High School (Minn.) cross country team, said. "He was a part of the extreme race up at the Pipestem Dam. The kids ran through the river like four times and up and down the valley there on the south side.

"I think he was top-20 -- so Jamestown had a part (in him becoming) an Olympian too."

Klecker, a 2015 Hopkins graduate, went on to run collegiately at the University of Colorado and after graduating in 2019, Klecker began running professionally. The Minnesota native will be representing Team USA in the 10k race at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. The games are slated to kick off on July 24.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Joe Klecker, top left, poses with teammates at a Jamestown cross country race. Courtesy / Mike Harris
Joe Klecker, top left, poses with teammates at a Jamestown cross country race. Courtesy / Mike Harris

Klecker will be joined in the Olympic arena by former Hopkins teammate, Joseph Fahnbulleh. Fahnbulleh, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Liberia, has chosen to represent Liberia in the games. The Flordia Gator recently won the NCAA 200 meter championship with a time of 19.94 seconds. Fahnbeullah qualified for the Olympics in the 200 meter-dash.

"I was in the right spot at the right time -- I guess I was a part of the atmosphere that was provided to both the future Olympians," Harris said. "Part of that stems from my teaching and coaching experience at Jamestown."

Harris was the assistant coach to former Blue Jay head cross country coach Russ Schmeichel from 1991 to 1998. Harris said Schmeichel, along with Rollie Greeno Sr. and Rollie Greeno Jr., implemented a team environment that strived for excellence. Harris accepted the head coaching position at Hopkins in '98 and has since seen many athletes qualify to Olympic trials and go on to compete professionally.

"I hope that I bring elements of that to the programs that I coach," Harris said of what he learned under Schmeichel and the Greeno duo. "The kids do all the hard work -- I don't get to share in their awards or their fame -- I just get to share in the experiences they had with me."

Part of those experiences for Klecker involved a slew of injuries the Olympian and Harris needed to work through.

"Joe Klecker was actually injured from his sophomore year to his senior year (of high school)," Harris said. "He had a breakout cross country season as a sophomore and then he had Achilles problems that really prevented him from competing a good chunk of his sophomore track season and a good chunk of his senior cross country season."

Joe Klecker (far left) poses with high school teammates at Buffalo Mountain running camp in Wyoming. Courtesy / Mike Harris.
Joe Klecker (far left) poses with high school teammates at Buffalo Mountain running camp in Wyoming. Courtesy / Mike Harris.

Despite being unable to compete to the level he wanted at the prep level, Klecker continued to push and persevered through the pain. Following his graduation from Colorado, he signed a professional running contract with 'On Running' and worked to help establish the On Athletics Club -- a running group in Boulder, Colorado. Klecker is professionally coached by Dathan Ritzenhein.

"What does it take? I would say it's the Darin Erstad mentality -- which is -- you have to be motivated, you have to be willing to do the work, and take setbacks and use them to your advantage," Harris said of what drives the Olympians. "Those are the elements for people to excel at anything.

"They've both had some races that they'd love to forget and move forward. That's what you have to be able to do -- you have to be able to accept those."

Klecker qualified to the Olympics off a third-place finish in the 10,000-meter run at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon on June 18. Klecker finished the 6.2-mile race at a blistering pace of 27 minutes, 54.9 seconds. The men's Olympic 10,000-meter finals will be held July 30. NBC is slated to broadcast the event at 5 a.m. central time.

"They've had many things that they have learned from about their performances that have enabled them to look forward to the next competition or next meet and really take advantage of it," Harris said. "You know you have someone special when they can use those to their advantage."