#7 - Behailu Bekele-Arcuri Finds The Final Gear
Expect the unexpected. It's typical advice for the sport of Cross Country, which can see wildly ranging weather conditions for it's early November State Championships. We've seen the muddy slogfest of Wayne HS. We've seen the unseasonably warm of Chenango Valley. But never before had we experienced what would befall the 2019 State Meet at SUNY Plattsburgh.
At the time, many thought it could get no stranger (oh, how naive we were) than the final decision at XC States. A strong snowfall in the week heading into the meet, caused major course revisions and redesigns, occurring right through the traditional course run-through the day before the meet. Even the morning of the meet, minor alterations were being made. Chief among them was the final distance. For the first time in meet history, the course would be measured at less than the traditional 5000 meters. However, as many know, Cross Country isn't about the distance, it's about the competition. Times don't matter, finishing position does. And for athletes Behailu Bekele-Arcuri, you can also say that the seeds don't matter, finishing position do.
Heading into the meet, Section 9's Behailu Bekele-Arcuri (Warwick) was seeded in a tie for 5th, among a pack of five other runners. That pack was trailing two from Fayetteville-Manlius, Peyton Geehrer and Sam Otis, who had finished in tandem at their respective Sectional Championship. Bekele's Season saw him take runner-up at Pre-States, then on a full 5K course. Still, that familiarity with the terrain would come in handy. Three weeks later, he would finish 13th at the Manhattan Invitational in the Eastern's Race, the 4th top New Yorker, behind Geehrer and Otis, as well as Sam Lawler (Pittsford-Mendon), who would race in Class B at States. In large part, these outings determined the final State Meet projections heading into the Championships. But Bekele was looking to turn the tide on the big day.
As is their race style, the Fayetteville-Manlius boys team went out strong. At one mile in, they were three across leading the race. Tucked behind were Bekele, and #4 seed Michael Danzi (Smithtown XC), both waiting to make their move after using the pace provided to them. Up and around the race snaked, carefully avoided the slick surfaces of the baseball field, navigating the undulating changes of pavement to dirt. The race made the turn into the backwoods, approaching the same spot that saw Lawler pull away from Bekele at the Pre-State Invite. Bekele made his move.
He quickly put a distance between himself and the field. Utilizing the only flat part of the race left, he exited the woods to head back uphill towards the baseball field with a clear lead. Hammering the uphill, and accelerating back down, he came to the downhill finish with Geehrer chasing behind. But the kick had been decisive, and Behailu came across the line for the win, three full seconds ahead of the field. It would earn him a 187-Speed Rating, a Season Best by three points (equivalent to nine seconds). Not only had Bekele conquered the projections, but he had done so among the most unorthodox XC State Meet in history.
Not one to question successful tactics, Bekele would return to the Indoor State Meet 3200m in a similar fashion. Coming into the race, Bekele was seeded 7th, with a 9:26.93 performance. As he did in XC, Bekele sat in good position for a majority of the race, letting Geehrer set the standard. And again with near perfect timing, Bekele made a surge with four laps to go, and broke the field. He would win in 9:13.20, the fastest time for a New Yorker in the 2020 Season.
Then, COVID would strike. It cut off the possibility of a lifetime. No male athlete in New York had completed the Triple Crown since Bekele had been born. Behaliu Bekele-Arcuri had won the XC State Meet, and the Indoor State 3200m. If he were to win the Outdoor 3200m, he would have become the first athlete to do so in over 15 years. But alas, 2020 was a year like no other.