Gast column: French newcomer hit ground running

10:25 PM, Oct. 22, 2013  |  Comments
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One of the great things about sports is its ability to surprise.

At the professional level, old Milwaukee Braves fans can't help but remember Bob Hazle who garnered the nickname "Hurricane" after blowing into Milwaukee in 1957. A late-season replacement for injured outfielder Bill Bruton, Hazle helped carry the Braves to the National League pennant and Milwaukee's only World Series title.

Or how about Chuck Mercein, whose short career with the Green Bay Packers is probably only remembered for his heroics on one crucial last-ditch drive that gave the Packers its iconic Ice Bowl win over Dallas in 1967.

It can happen at the high school level as well and is taking place right this moment at Gibraltar.

The Vikings have had some outstanding runners over the years but few have exploded onto the seen quite like Paul Aubrun.

I regularly do a preseason cross-country advance story for the Advocate. It's normally written a couple weeks before school opens and it's not uncommon for a coach to comment that he or she will be looking for additional talent once school opens, especially if the turnout is small.

That wasn't so much the case for Vikings coach Joy Manweiler.

Aubrun came to her all the way from France, a country in which cross-country (often referred to there as "cross") is not uncommon. However, Aubrun admits to being new to the sport.

Like all sports over in Europe, cross-country competition is between clubs and not schools, so participation can be limited to the proximity of such clubs. It also promotes specialization, unlike America where athletes often compete in up to three sports a year. Aubrun loves basketball and can't wait for that season to begin.

"Sometimes I would run in France and I did good without practicing so I thought it would be good to practice," said the Normandy native, whose first Gibraltar practice came the day after school opened. He arrived in the U.S. the same day as the season-opening Chief Kahquados Invitational.

Practice has been good.

Manweiler first introduced Aubrun to a competitive run in a junior varsity race.

"He nearly ran over the pace cart," said Debbie Kordon, a Gibraltar track coach.

Immediately promoted to the varsity, Aubrun has been nothing short of outstanding for an inexperienced runner. He placed no worse than 14th at the highly regarded River Valley Invitational. He placed third at the Bremser Invite at Mishicot, seventh at the Fameree Invitational in Luxemburg, second at Reedsville and third at last week's Packerland Conference meet.

He returns to Sheboygan Lutheran Saturday for a Division 3 sectional meet. In one of his first races this year, he placed 10th at the Lutheran Invitational in a time of 17 minutes, 59 seconds. He has since dropped his 5-kilometer time to as low as 17:15. Not bad for runner who admits with a smile that his strategy is to "start slow and finish fast. That's the only thing I do."

His goal is simple, "To go to state," he said, knowing it could take as high as a top-five finish to get there. Still, it's a realistic and remarkable goal for someone unfamiliar with the sport and minimal off-season training.

Kordon may be disappointed to know that Aubrun isn't planning to go out for track next spring.

"I think I'll try baseball," he said with a smile. "I don't think I'll be very good."

He shouldn't sell himself short.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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