By Sami Harb
Special to Tidesports.com
For Jacopo Lahbi track has always been the constant. His home, friends, and first language have changed since he came to Tuscaloosa from his native city Trevino, Italy. In many ways, running was the only source of consistency he had.
Running isn’t just something Lahbi does. It’s in his DNA, as the son of an Italian runner and coach.
As he began to show his own prowess on the track in Italy, especially in the 800 meters, Lahbi began receiving interest from American universities. That interest exploded when Lahbi competed in the 2013 U23 European Championships in the 800.
“I thought at the beginning that it was a joke,” Lahbi said of the first scholarships offers he started to receive. “I eventually started to realize that it was actually possible to come here and compete at such a high level.”
Not surprisingly, the move to Tuscaloosa was an initial culture shock for Lahbi. He thought the campus was beautiful but still, the transition from his home country and the language barrier made it difficult.
Lahbi was still comfortable on the track, as he always is. The 400 meters of asphalt was the same in Tuscaloosa as it was in Trevino. As he began working with the team, Lahbi quickly formed a close relationship with Alex Amankwah, a junior college transfer who, like Lahbi, left his home country of Ghana to come to the United States. Because Lahbi and Amankwah both competed in the 800, the two became inseparable training partners.
“We practiced together every day and we still do now even though he has graduated,” Lahbi said. “He was also so helpful when I couldn’t speak English very well, and helped me adapt to American culture.”
Together, Lahbi became a second team All-American in the 800 during the indoor season, while Amankwah qualified for the NCAA Championships in the event during the outdoor season of their first year in Tuscaloosa.
Lahbi was named a second-team All-American in the 800 his sophomore indoor season as well.
Midway through his career, Lahbi was first introduced to his new position coach, Blaine Wiley, who had just been hired as the team’s long sprint coach.
“One of the things I noticed first was just how eager he was to talk about his training and how passionate he was about getting better,” Wiley said. “He’s one of those kids you feel blessed to work with in your career because not every kid you do work with has the same approach to track and training that Jacopo does.”
Now in his senior year, Lahbi will take part in the first postseason when the Crimson Tide competes in SEC Indoor Championships in Nashville on Friday and Saturday.
Lahbi has already had what can’t be considered anything other than a successful indoor track career. However, with one last indoor conference meet left in his collegiate career, there is one accomplishment that has alluded him.
“We missed out on the final last year and I know that’s something that he was really, really upset about,” Wiley said. “I think right now it’s all starting to come together for his 800-meter run and I’m real hopeful for him to make the final here.”
Much like his coach, Lahbi sees making the 800 final as unfinished business.
“My goal for a while has been to make it to the final of the 800,” Lahbi said. “I need to really compete and stay focused on myself and try to score as many points as possible for the team.”