Guangul Is a Rising Star At Cal

Nov. 8, 2001

BERKELEY - By Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Girmay Guangual [pronounced GUR-my GWAN-gool] has come a long way to run at the University of California.

Guangul, a sophomore, is one of the top runners on the Golden Bears cross country team. But, it's only been in the last six years that running has played an important role in his life.

In 1996, Guangul and his sister March moved to Santa Clara from Ethiopia to live with their father, who moved to America in 1991.

Guangul and his sister were raised by their paternal grandparents in Ethiopia, where his family was middle class but would be considered poor by American standards.

'It's a lot better here than it is in Ethiopia,' said Guangul. 'Mostly my dad wanted us to get a better education here. There's a better chance of succeeding here than there is in Ethiopia. That's why he brought us here.'

When Guangul first came to the United States, he didn't speak English and didn't know anyone at Santa Clara High School. Running became a way to fit in.

'I started running my freshman year here,' said Guangul. 'I didn't have anything to do when I first got here. I didn't have a friend when I first moved here. There was an Ethiopian kid in my high school. He was a runner. I joined the team to be around him. He was the only one that spoke my language. I didn't know English. I had to be around him.'

By Guangul's senior year of high school, he already was in regular English classes and showed a strong academic aptitude. In addition to competing on the track and cross country teams, Guangul was the MVP of his school's soccer team. Unlike running, his soccer pedigree began as a youth in Ethiopia.

'I grew up in a really small city,' said Guangul. 'There wasn't much to do. You got up, went to school and came back and maybe played soccer with your friends after school.'

Guangul knew soccer would take a backseat to running in college because the seasons overlapped. He was recruited to run at many universities, but Cal had the right appeal.

'He was certainly recruited by other schools on the West Coast, some not as academically demanding as Berkeley,' said Cal Coach Tony Sandoval. 'He understood that. He wanted to get the very best that he could academically. He certainly works very hard academically and athletically.'

As a freshman at Cal, Guangual had an immediate impact on both the cross country and track and field teams. During the fall cross country season, he led the Bears in all six races he competed in, posting four top 10 finishes. At the NCAA West Region, Guangul finished ninth in 31:11 to lead all freshmen competitors and earned an individual berth at the NCAA Championships.

During the spring track and field season, Guangul was one of the top 5000m runners for the Bears and competed at the Pac-10 Championships in that event.

Guangul's sophomore season has not gotten off to as strong of a start due to an off-season ankle sprain and knee injury he suffered training in Ethiopia over the summer. He returned to his homeland for this first time in five years to see his family and to train at a high altitude.

'Unfortunately, as a result of an injury over the summer, Girmay isn't the same runner this fall that he was last spring or last fall,' said Sandoval. 'It just goes to show you, even with a short amount of down time and his was pretty extensive, he's sort of normal now. He's not where I'd like him to be or where he thought he could be.'

That is not to say that Sandoval doesn't foresee great things for Guangul before he graduates from Cal.

'Being an All-American in cross country and track and field is a reasonable goal considering how well he started,' said Sandoval. 'Again, you have to stay healthy and you have to be lucky in the sense that some years there are unbelievably good runners and you don't place very high, and other years, it might not be quite the same. You have to have things fall into place, as well. I think before he leaves here he should be an All-American in cross country and track and field.'

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