West Salem's Mihaly Akpamgbo has run the 200 meters in 21.57 seconds, No. 26 all-time in the state. (Photo by Jon Olson0
West Salem's Mihaly Akpamgbo has run the 200 meters in 21.57 seconds, No. 26 all-time in the state. (Photo by Jon Olson0

It wasn't until the smoke cleared on his breakout junior track season that West Salem's Mihaly Akpamgbo had time to reflect on his feats last year.

The potential had always been there for Akpamgbo, but last season he began to deliver on it, winning the 6A title in the 200 meters and finishing as runner-up in the 100.

“I didn't realize what I accomplished until after,” he said. “I started seeing awards and medals that I got, and I looked at myself like, wow, I did really well. I thought I was doing all right in the moment, but as I look back now, I see it as a made a huge impact. And I hope I can do even better as this season goes on.”

Judging by his first meet of his senior season, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Akpamgbo is ready to do bigger things. He opened by running a personal-best 21.57 in the 200, climbing to No. 26 all-time in the state.

“He's stronger than he was last year,” West Salem coach Erich Herber said. “And he's definitely more fit than he was last year. Based on what we've seen, he's more consistent. Last year he started off a little slower and kind of ran himself into shape. This year, first meet, he looked really, really good.”

Akpamgbo, who ran the 21.57 on a cool, windy day, is eager to see what he can do with warmer weather.

“I believe I can do a lot better,” he said. “I'm a little rusty now. Technique-wise is where most of my improvements have come from. What a lot of people don't know is 90 percent of speed is technique.”

Akpamgbo has had plenty of time to dwell on last year's state meet. He took second in the 100 by .03 seconds to North Salem's Demari Thompson, his Central Valley Conference rival, but came back to dominate the 200 with a PR of 21.75.

The narrow loss in the 100 final at state left him unfulfilled, especially considering he beat Thompson in both races in the district meet.

“It definitely motivates me, for sure,” Akpamgbo said. “I look back and see the mistakes, what went wrong, and what I can improve to make sure it doesn't happen again. I believe most of it was the start, the first three meters. I didn't have the strong start that I usually do.”

Herber said he believes Akpamgbo was a bit anxious in the 100, his first state final.

“He tightened up,” Herber said. “He didn't drive out of his blocks well or stay down. He kind of popped up. Demari gets out well. He's a little guy, about 140 pounds. Mihaly's a big kid. If he had just stayed down on his drive phase, he would've walked him down easily.”

No nerves were apparent when Akpamgbo won the 200 by .29 seconds.

“That 200, he obviously was like, 'OK, I'm just going to put the hammer down and see what happens,'” Herber said.

Akpamgbo will get an early test Friday when he faces off against Thompson, a senior, in the 14-team Titan Track Classic at West Salem. Both are entered in the 100 and 200.

It is the first of what is likely to be several showdowns between the two star sprinters this season. Akpamgbo and Thompson also are scheduled to compete in the Elite 100 at the Nike/Jesuit Twilight Relays on April 26. Then there's the Central Valley district meet May 8-10 and the 6A championships May 17-18.

Akpamgbo is looking forward to the challenge.

“The thing about Demari, especially the first 30 meters, you really can't mess up,” Akpamgbo said. “There's not a lot of room for mistakes. It's really pushing me to work on my start more. It helps me lock in more. It helps me not hold back and bring everything I've got.”'

Akpamgbo holds West Salem's school record in the 200. His best in the 100 is 10.67 – off the school mark of 10.49 (Anthony Gould, 2018) – but he ran a wind-aided 10.57 last summer.

“I would love it honestly if I was able to hit anywhere from 10.4 to 10.2 this year, maybe 10.1 or so,” Akpamgbo said.

Herber said Akpamgbo could make a big jump in the 200. The state record is 21.03, set by Benson's Micah Williams in 2019.

“I could see him running right around 21.1,” Herber said.

Akpamgbo is the youngest of four brothers (their parents are doctors from Nigeria) to run track at West Salem. His career got a late start, though, when a hip impingement condition kept him from competing as a freshman.

“It's something that we keep note of to make sure I can be safe running,” Akpampgbo said.

His talent was apparent as a sophomore, when he won the district title in the 100 and took 13th at state.

“He comes out and it's like, 'Oh, he looks different than his brothers,'” Herber said. “We've had our fair share of speed down here, which has been nice, but he's definitely the top of the class. … He looks like the Predator out there when he gets going.”