Dozens Cheer 19-year-old Liberian Olympic Finalist

The men’s 200-meter final in athletics wrapped up at around 8 a.m. local time, or 10 p.m. in
Tokyo, Japan. Just before the race, dozens of people met at Hopkins High School in the United
States to root for 19-year-old Joseph Fahnbulleh.

While there was support for the two sprinters who represented the U.S. in the race, Joe
represented Liberia. Fahnbulleh placed fifth with a time of 19.98.

At Wednesday’s watch party, a large Liberian flag adorned the room.
“I think it’s really special,” Fahnbulleh’s friend Moselle Punni said.

Punni, who is also an athlete, says she and Fahnbulleh met in junior high.
“I found out he was Liberian and I was like, ‘What? Me too,”’ Punni said. “Giving him that
opportunity to represent his country is amazing, and I know for me, my mom, like she works
with a lot of Liberians so they're always saying – like at work – they’re like, ‘Yeah, he’s
carrying the country on his back.”

Hopkins sprint coach Austin Salargo says Fahnbulleh has “always been a well-above average

“I stood up and excused myself and went and cried for a little bit, so that’s kind of where I was
at,” Salargo said after watching the race.

His former coach, fellow athletes, and friends know, to get to this electrifying moment in the first
place, is a win.

“He’s fifth in the world,” Punni said. “You’re a finalist in the Olympics, your first time, and I
can’t wait to see you cross that line again.”

“You almost like black out for the whole 20 seconds that he’s running,” said Eli Hoeft, who ran
track and field and cross country with Fahnbulleh in high school. “It’s just crazy to see someone
you’ve grown up with do such incredible things.”

Hopkins’ 2019 graduate Joseph Fahnbulleh finished fifth with a time of 19.98 seconds.
Fahnbulleh, the defending NCAA champion in this event for Florida, was attempting to win
Liberia’s first Olympic medal. And at 19 years of age, he’ll have plenty more opportunities to do

Fahnbulleh trailed by a large gap through the first 100 meters but, as he’s known to do, charged
to the finish line to claim a top-5 finish in his first Olympic Games. That’s an incredible feat, but
doesn’t quite meet the expectations Fahnbulleh, the Minnesota high school state record-holder in
the 100 and 200 meters, set for himself before departing for Tokyo.

“It’s top three or bust,” he said pre-Olympics. “It is top three or I didn’t do anything at the
Olympics, period, and I will try again next time in Paris.”


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