City High sophomore Olivier ShabaniBy Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Running is nothing new to Olivier Shabani.
The City High sophomore has been running for as long as he can remember. He was running long before he left the Republic of Congo to come to the United States with his family seven years ago.
Shabani is still running, the only difference is the races have gotten longer than he ever imagined.
“I was sprinter for the longest time and that’s all that I wanted to do,” Shabani explained. “I played soccer a lot when I was young so that was sprinting with a ball so I thought I was a sprinter. I thought I was always going to have a quick fast, race and be done.”
The career as a sprinter didn’t turn out exactly the way Shabani imagined but that hasn’t stopped him from running.
In just his second season as a cross country runner Shabani has become a valuable contributor for City High which enters the Mississippi Valley Conference Valley Divisional meet on Thursday at the Dubuque Soccer Complex ranked No. 11 in Class 4A.
“I coached him in track in seventh grade and he was a 100 runner and that’s all he wanted to do,” City High cross country coach Jayme Skay said. “I got him to do 200s then 400s and we just built him up. We got him into cross country and to be a varsity runner as a sophomore is just outstanding for him.”
Shabani hung on to his sprinting dreams as long as he could in junior high.
Eventually on the advice of Skay he began attempting longer distance races. Initially it seemed like a failed experiment for Shabani.
“I did the longest race we had in junior high and I said, ‘Coach don’t ever put me in that again’ it was so tiring,” Shabani said. “I didn’t quite understand long distance, I thought it was just weird. I thought it was boring just running around in circles.”
Eventually Shabani began to pick up on the long distance running. He settled on the 800 and mixed in some 400s on relay teams.
He figured that would be the extent of his distance running until some friends convinced him to try cross country.
Shabani attended the first day of summer training before his freshman year at City High and determined after a five-mile run that his first day would be his last day of cross country.
“I had my friends that told me try it out and I ran five miles that day and I said I am never coming back here ever again,” Shabani said. “The next day I woke up and came here again and I don’t know why but something just brought me here and I ran again and I kept coming every single day and I got used to it and I like it.”
Once he got the hang of it Shabani has been a quick learner.
He was one of the top runners on the Little Hawks junior varsity team as a freshman and cracked the top seven as a varsity runner for most of this season.
“He has a great work ethic,” Skay said. “He has a positive attitude the kids love him he’s just an outstanding kid.”
Shabani finished his final race as a freshman in 18:06 and clocked a 18:26 in his first race this season.
He lowered his time in three consecutive races, running a career-best time of 17:07.8 at the Heartland Classic in Ames last month.
“From last year I have improved a lot,” Shabani said. “In the summer I actually worked really hard, I ran a lot of miles with a lot of people who are better than me and I pushed myself to run with them so I could get better.”
Shabani knows he has a long way to go to be toward the top of the pack and he’s fine with that for now.
Knowing he’s already improved his time by nearly two minutes in less than two full seasons has given Shabani high goals for the rest of his career.
“I want to make it to state with my team, that is my main goal,” Shabani said. “And I want to break 16 minutes. When I got to 18 I thought this is too fast, I have to slow down and this year I said I think I can push it a little more and get 17 minutes.”
City High will get another look at some of the top teams in the state on Thursday in a loaded Valley Divisional meet.
Six of the seven teams at the meet are ranked including the top three finishers from last week’s MVC Super meet in third-ranked Dubuque Hempstead, fourth-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie and No. 7 Cedar Falls.
Five of the top six finishers from the Super Meet are at the Valley Divisional as No. 9 Cedar Rapids Washington and City High finished fifth and sixth at the Super Meet last week.
Eighth-ranked West High will take part in the Mississippi Divisional at Gates Park Golf Course in Waterloo.