Graham Blanks.

First-place finishes are piling up for Crimson distance runner Graham Blanks this year.

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Graham Blanks can really motor

5 min read

Rising cross-country star surges past competition (and a golf cart)

How fast is Crimson distance runner Graham Blanks ’25?

So fast he won both the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races at the Ivy League Indoor Track & Field Championships last winter.

So fast he swept the 5,000- and 10,000-meter events at the Ivy League Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the spring.

So fast he even outpaced the lead car last month at the 8-kilometer Battle in Beantown in Franklin Park.

To be fair, the car was actually a golf cart with an experienced runner behind the wheel. He could see that Blanks was about to zoom past the vehicle.

“The driver recognized that Graham was going faster than the cart could keep up,” said Jason Saretsky, the William W. “Bill” McCurdy Director of Track & Field/Cross Country. “He pulled over to make sure he didn’t get in the way.”

Blanks, now a junior, is having the winningest year of his Harvard running career. In addition to besting the Ivy League in multiple men’s races, he finished first this fall at the Battle in Beantown and Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, two staples of the cross-country season. The Winthrop House resident will return Saturday to Franklin Park for the 8-kilometer Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships. The event, which starts at 11 a.m., will also be livestreamed on ESPN+.

After adjusting to the high mileage required of runners training at the collegiate level, Blanks said he’s finally performing at top speed in 2023. “This is definitely the first time my competitors are seeing my mature, rounded-off self,” he said.

Saretsky was far loftier in his assessment of the 21-year-old’s athletic abilities. “Graham has the potential to go down as one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest distance runner to ever come through Harvard,” said the coach, who went on to cite cross-country legends such as Paul Gompers ’87, Ph.D. ’93, and Maksim Korolev ’14.

Blanks, a team co-captain, had no intention of dominating the prerace chatter this week. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to talk a lot about the team,” said the native of Athens, Georgia, who grew up playing soccer. “It’s my favorite thing to talk about.”

Blanks Running.

Blanks finished first at the Battle in Beantown this fall.

Harvard Athletics

The Harvard women’s team, currently ranked 26th by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, won the Ivy League Cross Country Championships in New York City last year. The individual to beat in 2023 is defending Ivy League Cross Country champion Maia Ramsden ’24, who also finished first last month in the women’s 5-kilometer Battle of Beantown.

In the men’s race, the other Crimson runner to watch is defending Ivy League Cross Country champion Acer Iverson ’24. As for the overall men’s team, now ranked seventh by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, they haven’t triumphed in the league’s top cross-country meet since 1972.

“We haven’t won an Ivy League Championship in over 50 years, which is longer than our coach has been alive,” Blanks quipped.

“This weekend will be a great opportunity for Graham to notch another victory in his belt. And if he does that, he’ll complete sort of the grand slam of distance running at the Ivy League level.”

Jason Saretsky, track & field and cross country director

He thinks the Crimson men finally have a shot at outrunning Princeton, the league’s cross-country champions for the last two years. Not only did Harvard beat the Tigers at the notoriously challenging Nuttycombe two weeks ago, but as host of Saturday’s race, Harvard also enjoys a hometown advantage at Franklin Park, where the team runs together most Fridays under associate head coach for distance and middle-distance Alex Gibby.

Blanks described the course as “very grungy,” with lots of hills, tight turns, and varied surfaces. The choppy terrain explains his farcically fast move at the Battle in Beantown, he insisted. “It’s really hard to maneuver a cart on that course,” he said with a smile.

A double concentrator in economics and philosophy, Blanks works part-time as a research assistant at Harvard Business School. He’s also a seasonal staffer at the Athens outpost of running retailer Fleet Feet. Looking ahead, he hopes to run professionally after earning his bachelor’s degree. “My four-year plan is try to run fast now so I can keep doing it for a while,” he said.

If he runs fast enough on Saturday, Blanks will duplicate the feat his teammate Iverson accomplished in 2022 when he topped the Ivy League in a total of five distance events. “This weekend will be a great opportunity for Graham to notch another victory in his belt,” Saretsky said. “And if he does that, he’ll complete sort of the grand slam of distance running at the Ivy League level.”

Meanwhile, the coaching staff has made special arrangements for their rising star. “We made sure to rent a faster golf cart,” Saretsky said.