Meet Grant Fisher: The Foot Locker Champ And 4:02 Miler Is Only A Junior, But He’s Already Wise Beyond His Years
adidas Dream Mile champ has run 4:02.02 for the mile (#5 All-time among HS Juniors) and will look to post a quick 2-mile at Saturday’s Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle.
By Jonathan Gault, LetsRun.com
June 20, 2014
If you want to appreciate how special 17-year-old Grant Fisher of Michigan’s Grand Blanc High School already is – and how truly great he could one day be – you only need to watch one race. And really, it’s only a few seconds of that race.
It’s not last year’s Foot Locker final, when Fisher pulled away from John Dressel after an epic duel over the last 800 meters to become just the second American boy to win Foot Lockers as an 11th grader.
It’s not last week’s adidas High School Boys’ Dream Mile in New York, where Fisher used a 58-second last lap to destroy a loaded field and run 4:02.02, the fifth-fastest time ever by an 11th grader according to Running Times.
It was July 11, 2013, heat three of the boys’ 1500m in the World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine (video of heat here and embedded on the right set to start at the bell. Grant is in red on the rail, message board discussion of race here). Fisher, just 16 at the time, was intimidated as he observed the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners lined up in the same singlets worn by all-time greats such as Asbel Kiprop or Kenenisa Bekele. One runner, Titus Kipruto Kibiego of Kenya, had run 3:39 – at altitude – to win the Kenyan Trials. But then Fisher looked down at his chest, read the three letters – U-S-A – and remembered that he had good reason to be confident as well.
Once the gun went off, Fisher got out well, content to sit in second on the rail and run the shortest distance possible. That’s where he remained until the bell, but as the real racing began, Fisher was trapped with nowhere to go. Runner after runner moved past Fisher on the outside. The top three would advance to the final, but as Fisher hit the backstretch he found himself in sixth, still blocked from moving up. It’s a position that would cause a lot of 16-year-olds to pack it in: Fisher was 5,221 miles from his Grand Blanc, Mich. home and the race was getting away from him.
And that’s when it happened, the moment that his coach Mike Scannell says will give you “a whole new respect for who Grant Fisher is or will be.” Fisher has what Scannell likes to call “a big toolbox,” and in that moment, about 250 meters from the finish line, Fisher put his greatest tool to use: his mind.
When the pace accelerated with a lap to go, Fisher had started searching for an opening so he could make his move. On the backstretch, he finally found one, but to get through he had to purposefully slow himself down. So that’s what he did, creating a short-term gap and trusting that his kick would be strong enough to qualify. He got out and midway through the final turn he passed one runner, then another. Then he passed a third, and by the middle of the homestretch it was a battle between Fisher, Kibiego and Ethiopian Adisneh Amibelu for the win. As Kibiego’s form broke down over the final 50 meters, Fisher never broke stride, leaning at the line to take the heat in a PR of 3:50.30.
It was the kind of last lap you see in a World Championships semifinal but rarely from a high school sophomore competing for the first time overseas (Fisher would finish ninth in the final three days later). Fisher’s list of accomplishments is long, and it only figures to grow in his senior year at Grand Blanc High School. But if you’re looking for a reason to be excited about Grant Fisher, that 1,500 in Donetsk is a good place to start.
That mental fortitude is hard to teach and Scannell says it’s a trait Fisher inherited from his father, Dan, who ran alongside Scannell at Arizona State in the 1980s and later competed against Scannell on the professional duathlon circuit (biking and running).
“It’s part of coaching that’s difficult to attack in other athletes, to get them in a position where their mind is strong.” Scannell says. “Grant has it and Dan had it as well.”
Scannell’s relationship with Grant dates back a long time. In 2000 Scannell was hired by a manufacturing company called the Engineered Products Company in Flint, Mich., and a year later the company hired Dan Fisher, who roomed with Scannell at Arizona State. The two still work for the company today and it is primarily owned by another former Sun Devil – Treg Scott, an 800-meter runner who ran a leg on the ASU 4 x 800 relay squad that ran 7:08.96 in 1984, a collegiate record that still stands.
Scannell has two children close in age to Grant and his sister Hailey, 19, and the Scannells and Fishers have been close all of Grant’s life, even going on vacations together. However, Scannell is very careful when it comes to every runner he coaches and didn’t want to start mentoring Fisher until the time was right.
“Kids Need To Be Kids”
“I don’t coach any athletes before spring of eighth grade,” says Scannell, who is no longer an official coach at Grand Blanc HS after a falling-out with the athletic director but still coaches the distance runners. “If you want to play soccer great, if you want to play basketball great. I don’t like the focus on running early. Nowadays everyone thinks their kids are going to be getting college scholarships their freshman year of high school, but kids need to be kids.”
It’s an approach that works well with Fisher, whose first love was soccer and only picked up running in seventh grade as a way to improve his fitness for soccer. Because he’s not a high-mileage guy – he typically runs 40 miles per week – Fisher has managed to continue to play both sports through his junior year. That decision has brought its share of problems – Fisher had to choose between state championships in soccer and cross-country as a sophomore in 2012, ultimately choosing soccer – and Fisher knows that once he hits college, he’ll have to make a decision one way or the other. But this fall, he’ll still do both, alternating between soccer matches on Tuesdays and Thursdays and cross-country workouts on Mondays and Wednesdays. Saturdays are a toss-up between soccer games and cross-country invitationals, but Fisher makes sure to get in his weekly long run on Sundays and will find time for an shorter easy run even on days primarily devoted to soccer.
“Right now, I [probably prefer] running, but it’s hard to say,” Fisher says as he prepares to race the 2 mile at Saturday’s Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle (Fisher has an 8:55.75 3,200 PR). “When I’m at a soccer match, I really enjoy it, but when I’m fresh off a race, I like running more. I kind of flip-flop.”
So far, Fisher has been able to perform at a high level in both sports, earning honorable mention all-state last fall for Grand Blanc HS and reaching the State Cup semifinals in 2012 with his club team, the Michigan Wolves, in addition to his running accolades. One of the reasons he hasn’t burned out from all the athletic activity is that Scannell prefers to ease his charges into the sport, with a focus on long-term improvement.
The Focus Is On the Future
Fisher never ran 400 repeats as a freshman, as Scannell starts all his athletes out with easy runs, long runs and “steady” runs – faster runs, but always at a controlled pace. Scannell only introduces new kinds of workouts when an athlete proves to him that his body is recovering properly from its current level of training. Right now, Fisher is at the final stage of Scannell’s program, which the coach refers to as a “full load” including easy runs, long runs, steady runs, VO2 max intervals and anaerobic tolerance work on the track.
Even now, though, Scannell won’t hesitate to end a workout if he senses something’s off. Scannell, 50, still runs with Fisher and his teammates four to five times a week and will run workouts with them if they’re doing longer intervals. Though he can no longer hang with Fisher – few can – he meticulously monitors his runners, even utilizing a portable lactate analyzer. Scannell is hoping to gain insight into how his athletes’ bodies are responding to his training, but he’s also hoping that his analysis encourages athletes to speak up for themselves when something feels off.
Four days before Saturday’s Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle, Scannell was supervising one of Fisher’s workouts. He was looking at his watch, but he’s not a big splits guy – he cares more about how his athletes are thinking during workouts.
“I see there’s no snap,” Scannell recalls. “To me, the workout’s over. So I said, ‘Grant, how you doing today?’ And I want to hear from him if there’s any hitch that he’s feeling the way I’m watching. He said, ‘I just don’t have any snap today,’ and he was right. And the workout was over.”
All 4:10s Aren’t The Same
Scannell does care about splits in races, but he’s not focused on the same clock as everyone else. Fisher didn’t generate a lot of hype prior to the Dream Mile because when people looked at Fisher’s spring results, they saw a bunch of 4:10s. But each of those 4:10s tells a story.
“One of the times he ran 4:10, he ran, according to plan [400 splits of], 60, 64, 65, 60,” Scannell says. “The plan was 60, 65, 65, 60. Another time that he ran 4:10, it didn’t matter the first three laps, but he closed in 54. I told him. ‘I’m only timing the last lap.’ Another time he came through 1,000m in 2:34. We were running 1,000 hard and then I said shut it down. He runs 4:10. The statistics for the people who live in Colorado said he ran 4:10 three times, but none of those races were remotely similar. They were all preparation for how we train.”
For Scannell, it’s all about building Fisher’s toolbox, exposing him to every possible race situation so that he’s prepared in the races that really matter. This year, that means running his best at the USATF Junior Championships July 5-6 in Eugene, Ore., which will serve as the trials for the World Junior Championships, also in Eugene July 22-27. Scannell won’t put limits on what Fisher can achieve and never tells his runners his own PRs to avoid creating expectations. When pressed, he only says that, “I believe that you will see Grant compete for a long time to come.”
Fisher still likes to consider himself an underdog, even if nobody else will, and says that he “doesn’t feel right” about the frequent comparisons between him and Dathan Ritzenhein, another Michigan high school great and the only other American boy to win Foot Lockers as a junior.
“I’ve talked to Dathan a few times and he’s a really nice guy,” Fisher says. “I’m just going to do the best I can and if the times come close to his, that’s an honor because of how much people look up to him in Michigan. And if they don’t, that’s okay too because it’s Dathan.”
Fisher has an exciting 12 months ahead – U.S. and possibly World Juniors, a chance to defend his Foot Locker crown, a possible sub-4:00 attempt next spring – but he’s also facing some big decisions. Where to go for college? (Fisher says he’ll start thinking about that once the recruitment period opens July 1.) And, more importantly, what sport to play? (He’s still mum on that.)
The attention will only grow from here, but, like that semifinal in Donetsk, it’s a good bet that Fisher will make the right choice at the crucial moment.
More: Discuss this article in our world famous fans’ forum: *MB: Meet Grant Fisher: Is 40 mpw, 11th grade Foot Locker champ and 4:02 miler America’s next star?
*2014: Foot Locker Champ Grant Fisher Wins The 2014 adidas Dream Mile In 4:02.02, Chopping 7 Seconds Off His PR
*2013: Grant Fisher Wins Epic Battle With John Dressel – Becomes Just 2nd American 11th Grade Foot Locker Champ
*2013: US boys Blank Haney and Grant Fisher spank Africans and win 1500 semis at 2013 World Youths
(Editor’s note: After this profile, Grant Fisher ran 8:51.28 to dominate the Brooks PR 2 Mile and set a 2014 US leader at 2 miles)
1 Grant Fisher Grand Blanc, MI 8:51.28 2 Steven Fahy La Costa Canyon, CA 8:55.24 3 Andrew Rafla Timberline, ID 8:56.06 4 Conner Mantz Sky View, UT 8:56.62 5 Thomas Pollard Gilbert, IA 8:56.83 6 Cerake Geberkidane Denver East, CO 8:58.08 7 John Dressel Mt Spokane, WA 8:58.38 8 Blair Hurlock De La Salle, CA 8:58.51 9 Dan Curts Ellsworth, ME 9:00.18 10 Aaron Templeton Hardin Valley Academy, TN 9:01.83 11 Noah Kauppila Marquette, MO 9:21.75