"Air" Jordan dominates start to finish

Jordan Hasay is a two-time Foot Locker Finals winner and currently runs for the University of Oregon. Courtesy John Dye

She was called "Air Jordan" that first fall, but the "Air" was soon discarded and she just become Jordan, as recognizable by her first name as any prep distance runner has probably ever been.

And if it seems like she dominated the entire decade, well, you'd be half right. Jordan Hasay of Mission College Prep (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) emerged on the scene as a middle schooler in USA track meets and by the fall of her freshman year displayed as much talent as almost anyone her age ever has.

For what she would do that fall, and the rest of her storied career, she is the DyeStat/ESPN RISE Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Decade.

Jordan had a good chance to win when she toed the line for her first Foot Locker Final in December 2005. She had won the Division V state title -- fastest of the day overall -- and the Foot Locker West Region race, too. But the runner-up from the previous race in the West, Nevada's Marie Lawrence, was second in the nation the year before and had run faster than Jordan in a different race at the big Mt. SAC Invite.

Could Lawrence have just been running to qualify and have more in the tank? Or might defending national champ Aislinn Ryan from New York be able to repeat in San Diego, denying both of the West Coast talents?

But no, a patient Jordan ran in the pack for most of two miles, then accelerated to a pace neither Ryan or Lawrence could match. As fans watched the petite freshman with the long blonde mane and the wagging tongue -- two of her "trademarks" to this day -- they wondered if they were seeing another young prodigy or someone who was destined to be an all-time great.

Her coach, Dr. Armando Siqueiros, had already anticipated the challenge that lay ahead after his charge had won in 17:05.

"My big plan is to recognize that there will be difficult times, but if you have faith, courage, and utilize different training modalities, you have done everything you can do," he said.

As it turned out, Jordan had staying power like no other ninth-grade talent before her. No, she didn't win every Foot Locker title -- she was 10th as a sophomore and third as a junior. But that was due to more to trials and errors in race strategy and training strategy, rather than any burnout that has befallen many a prodigy.

Each of those years, there was also tremendous success. She would win four state titles in California, three of the years with the fastest overall time and the other within a second of the best. At the nation's biggest meet -- the Mt. SAC Invitational -- she would claim four individual sweepstakes victories. She also led the Foot Locker West squad to San Diego each of her four seasons, becoming the first to earn a career sweep in that qualifier.

Perhaps most importantly, each of Hasay's disappointing Foot Locker losses was followed by a dominating performance the following February at the USATF Junior Cross Country Championships. While Jordan never chose to represent Team USA, she beat older preps and young collegians each of those years with style and grace.

Meanwhile, Jordan had an even more amazing track career, one that would reach a peak her junior year as she set a high school 1500-meter record in reaching the 2008 Olympic Trials Final. She won four USATF junior track titles in her career as well.

Finally, in the fall of 2009, she came to San Diego as a senior with one final chance for a second Foot Locker Finals victory. In her way were the two past champions who had won during her soph and junior years, Kathy Kroeger of Tennessee and Ashley Brasovan of Florida. In the final 400, Hasay was third, but drawing an audible gasp from the crowd, she unfurled her 4:14 speed in the 1500 to catch and then pass early leader Allie McLaughlin of Colorado and Brasovan, soaring home to claim her second Foot Locker Finals title -- only the sixth to repeat and the first to do so in non-consecutive years.

"When I won it my freshman year, I don't think I understood the significance … and the pressure there would be the next few years," said Jordan. "I have a greater appreciation for it now … It was a good note to go off on."