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Hopkins High School community cheers for alumnus representing Liberia in Tokyo Games

2019 Hopkins graduate Joe Fahnbulleh competed in the men's 200-meter final.
Credit: AP
Joseph Fahnbulleh, of Liberia, competes in a heat of the men's 200-meters at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

HOPKINS, Minn. — If you're waiting to watch the Olympics tonight on NBC, heads up. There are some spoilers ahead.

The men's 200-meter final 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 to root for 19-year-old Joe Fahnbulleh.

While there was support for the two sprinters who represented the U.S. in the race, Joe represented Liberia. 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.'"

Fahnbulleh placed fifth with a time of 19.98.

"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 sprint coach Austin Salargo says Fahnbulleh has "always been a well-above average runner."

"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."

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