Nov 17, 2021 • 20M

Micah Swann recounts the path to gold

After winning the UIL 4A Cross Country state title, the AHS senior recounts the thrill of victory, while brother Hardy prepares for a Swann Sweep in 2022

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By Toni Garrard Clay/AISD Communications Coordinator

While Athens High School has amassed an impressively large number of academic and fine arts related state titles in recent years, it has been quite a while since the Hornets have taken the top spot on the podium at a state athletic meet. Enter Micah Swann. Earlier this month, the senior won the gold medal at the UIL 4A Cross Country State Meet. Micah ran the 3.11-mile race with a personal-best time of 15 minutes, 42 seconds. Meanwhile, his brother, Hardy Swann, finished 14th and has a big goal for next year. Listen in to hear a play-by-play of the race that Micah calls the best of his life.

Highlights from the podcast:

At 0:05 — On being called The Swann Brothers: “I love it,” says Micah.

At 1:10 — Micah and Hardy were both competing in the UIL cross country state meet for the second year in a row. Hardy, a junior, finished 14 out of 150 racers.

At 2:05 — When COVID-19 prevented Micah as a sophomore from playing soccer in the spring of 2020, he began to train seriously for cross country going into that summer, with the intention of making it to the state meet his junior year. “My entire goal was, by my senior year, I wanted to win it.” (Check aaaand check.)

At 2:50 — “It was a lot of sacrifices … from me, my whole family, my brother. We all sacrificed for that moment, and it was just amazing,” says Micah.

At 3:04 — The brothers, who are a year apart in age, both set the goal around the summer of 2020 to win the state meet their senior years. “I feel a lot more pressure now because the second and third places were juniors, too,” says Hardy. “So they still have one more year, but I feel like I can repeat next year and get first.”

At 4:06 — Over the summer, Micah ran 80 miles a week and Hardy 75, with Sundays off. When school started, Micah bumped it down to 70 to 60 miles, and Hardy to 50. They got up at 5 a.m. and ran until 6 to beat the heat.

At 5:35 — Micah recounts that, though he won regionals, he had a “terrible race” due to heat exhaustion, combined with not enough hydration. “I completely died the last 200 meters,” he says. “Got it done though.”

At 7:15 — “I was so confident about the race all throughout the week,” recalls Micah. “… But as the race gets closer … I started doubting myself more because I started reading what people were saying on the Internet about the race. … It wasn’t harsh or anything, but I definitely wasn’t a favorite, and that put a little bit of doubt in my mind.”

At 8:06 — The runner who finished third at state beat Hardy at the regional meet by only about 2 seconds. So Hardy’s sights are set on qualifying for the state meet next year — for the third year in a row — and winning it all.

At 9:00 — With 150 competitors in the race, it makes for a crowded starting line. Racers are equipped with a chip that provides each individual’s exact time.

At 10:40 — At mile 1, Micah was in the top 10. “I saw the guys; they were right up there. I looked and saw there wasn’t anybody that I was really worried about,” recounts Micah, who had familiarized himself with all the top competitors. The defending 2-mile state champion was right with Micah at the 1 mile mark. “I let him take all of the effort to move up (to the front), and I just turned my brain off and followed him. He led me up there perfectly.”

At 11:40 — “Right after the 1 mile, I gained contact with the front, and I was right there,” says Micah with a smile. “… At the 1-and-a-half, I wanted to go, but I knew I had to stay patient, because the race plan going in was to stay with them all the way up until the 2 mile and with a mile to go — go and just leave them. Executed it perfectly.”

At 12:25 — “At what point did you start thinking, ‘I’m going to win this thing?’” asks Toni Clay. “A little bit before a mile to go,” says Micah. “… I was just listening to them and just looking at their form compared to how I was feeling. … I’ve never felt that good in a race. … The first 2 miles was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, even the last mile. It was just one of the easiest races I’ve ever had. … It was so fun.”

At 13:54 — Right before the line, I was just like, ‘Do not get passed right at the line,’” recounts Micah. “I was just so overjoyed.”

At 14:50 — “My heart was pounding in my ears,” recalls Coach Mark Hall. “There was a lot of cheering. The race is so exciting. … You’re watching the best runners from all of the regions come together at the same time. … It was so inspiring.”

At 16:36 — Hardy recounts: “Around 800 meters to go, there’s a switchback. So I saw [Micah] in the lead with 800 to go. … I kind of wanted to stop and cheer him on.”

At 17:58 — The brothers hope to run together collegiately, though they don’t yet know where that will be.

While not mentioned in the podcast, also deserving of a mention is AHS Coach Cliff Thompson, who coached Micah in cross country throughout the first three years of high school and Hardy during his freshman and sophomore years. Additionally, the brothers’ grandfather, Karl Johnsen, is one of the primary influences in their training regimen and the inspiration behind their competitive racing drive.

Micah (left) and Hardy Swann after the cross country regionals meet that sent them both back to state: