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Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc wins Foot Locker again

By: Bill Khan, December 14, 2014, 10:42 pm

San Diego – On a day in which he cemented his status as one of America’s greatest all-time high school distance runners, Grand Blanc High School senior Grant Fisher was quick to share the credit for his phenomenal individual success.
Fisher became the fifth male to repeat as the Foot Locker national cross country champion by pulling away from a surprisingly large pack in the final half mile to win by nine seconds in 15:03 at San Diego’s Balboa Park.
In a post-race interview with 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor, Fisher’s first thoughts were 2,300 miles away.
"My teammates and everyone back home in Grand Blanc have been supporting me and have been so important to what I’m doing," Fisher said. "To do this and represent them well means so much to me."
Nobody who knows Fisher would be surprised that his initial thought was to thank others for his accomplishments.
Back in Grand Blanc, teammates and supporters gathered to watch the race at The Jewel, the golf course at which Grand Blanc runs its home meets. As much for his demeanor as his talent, he has received the praise of competitors who have tried, and failed, to beat him the last two years.
"He is a great kid," said his coach Mike Scannell, a former Arizona State teammate of Fisher’s father, Dan. "But he’s very sincere that his success isn’t his own. He’s happy to thank the guys who helped him get where he is, no doubt about it."
Fisher is ever mindful of the support he receives back in Grand Blanc.
"A lot of people look at me and think I did all of this on my own," Fisher said. "A lot of people don’t realize the background work that goes on. I have an incredible support system back home. … Honestly, and I really mean this, I don’t think any of this could’ve happened without their support. It takes a whole system to make things work. I’m the figurehead, I guess."
Fisher has won a Foot Locker championship as a relative unknown who snuck out of the pack to win an epic sprint to the finish, as he did in 2013. He has won it under the pressure of considerable hype, returning as the defending champion and with a high national profile bolstered over the summer when he ran a 4:02 mile.
"It was different," Fisher said. "This year, there was quite a target on my back. Last year, although I won the regional, I was still not the favorite by any means going in. This year was definitely harder, but I think I prepared a lot better this year than last year. This year we were a lot more prepared for the hills and the different ups and down of the course. Just being familiar with it helped a lot. It feels pretty good coming in, having all the pressure on me and performing to what I wanted to perform. It’s difficult, but it means a lot."
Unlike last year when Fisher won a physical duel that included body contact down the stretch with John Dressel of Colbert, Wash., Fisher sucked the drama out of the finish this season by making his move with about a half mile remaining.
"Last year came down to the wire," Fisher said. "Although it did work out in the end, it was kind of nerve-racking and things could’ve gone in a different direction pretty easily. This year, we didn’t want to leave it down to too much of a chance. We really wanted to throw down a hard move at the top of the hill. I was kind of putting myself on the line earlier than I usually do, but in the end it was the right strategy."
With a large pack still in the hunt heading into an uphill section, Fisher separated from the other competitors, then opened up an insurmountable gap on the ensuing downhill. He ran the final stretch alone, still pushing through to the finish line as he took his place among the all-time greats in the sport.
He joins Rockford’s Dathan Ritzenhein (1999 and 2000) as the only Michigan runner to win Foot Locker twice. Other Michigan winners are Walled Lake Western’s Brian Grosso (1988), Dearborn Fordson’s Abdul Alzindani (1995) and Novi’s Tim Moore (2001).
Rochester’s Megan Goethals won in 2009, becoming the only Michigan girl to win Foot Locker.
Fisher is also only the fifth two-time champion among boys, with the last three champions all accomplishing the feat.
"I look up to Dathan quite a bit," Fisher said. "To have my name on something alongside him means so much. It’s kind of a surreal thing. Honestly, it doesn’t really feel right having my name next to him for anything, knowing how much success he had in high school, and then in college and on the professional level. He’s someone everyone aspires to be like. So, it’s really cool."
Fisher ran in the top three for most of the race, while some of the early leaders eventually faded.
Thomas Pollard of Ames, Iowa, held a slight lead for about the first six minutes, but wound up finishing 12th in 15:29.
Running relaxed behind Pollard, Fisher took the lead for the first time just after the six-minute mark, but he quickly settled in behind Alex Ostberg of Darien, Conn. Ostberg was the frontrunner until shortly before Fisher made his decisive move. Ostberg fell back to a ninth-place finish in 15:22.
Elijah Armstrong of Pocatello, Idaho, was in the lead pack with Fisher and Ostberg, with a large group right behind them. Armstrong was the closest runner to Fisher when he broke away, but couldn’t match Fisher’s move and ended up in third place in 15:13.
Fisher was undefeated in his final two seasons of cross country, winning his final 19 meets after placing 20th in the 2012 Foot Locker Midwest Regional.
Fisher’s victory gives Michigan seven victories in the boys competition in the 35-year history of the prestigious meet. Only California, with eight, has produced more championships.
"You do get tough running in the cold and snow," Fisher said. "It’s a challenge every day, especially since we don’t get the big prestigious meets that they get in other parts of the country."
Fisher is unbeaten in track and field against American high school runners since taking second place in the 1,600-meter run in a photo finish at the 2013 state Division 1 meet. He won the 3,200 later that meet before going undefeated as a junior, including victories in national-level meets.
Concord’s Jesse Hersha, the three-time state Division 4 champion, placed 16th in 15:33.
Audrey Belf of Birmingham Seaholm, the two-time state Division 1 champion, placed seventh in the girls’ race in 17:51. Sarah Kettel, a Brighton resident from Capital Homeschool, was 39th out of 40 runners in 19:51.
Anna Rohrer of Mishawaka, Ind. became the first two-time Foot Locker winner not to win in consecutive years. She won in 2012, missed 2013 with an injury, and regained her title by a 10-second margin in 17:13 on Saturday.
In the team scoring, the Midwest team took second with 37 points behind the West’s 31. The South had 83, while the Northeast had 89.
Belf was the No. 2 runner for the Midwest girls, who were a close second to the South by a 41-44 margin. The West had 56 points, while the Northeast had 78.