Prior to Saturday’s 2013 Foot Locker Cross Country Championship, only one American junior-class boy had won the event. The list of 11th-grade victors now contains two names: as Michigan state champ Grant Fisher outlasted Washington’s John Dressel, winning the San Diego race with a time of 15:07. (The other 11th-grade champion was Dathan Ritzenhein, now a three-time Olympian.)
Dressel, a fellow junior who finished in 15:10, was one of nine runners duking it out with Fisher at the two-mile mark. As Letrun.com reports, the lead pack got off to something of a slow start—a 2:19 opening half-mile and a 4:53 first mile—but then the pace picked up, and the pack had dwindled to four boys just before the course’s final hill.
Then Dressel made a big move. Halfway up the hill he had a 10-meter lead over Fisher, and the others were dropped. Fisher rallied on the subsequent downhill and passed Dressel. As they flew around the final turn at the three-mile mark, Dressel fought back past Fisher, but that push cost him what was left of his energy. In the final tenth of a mile, Fisher surged ahead and won, pumping his fist as he crossed the line.
“The plan didn’t go 100 percent how we wanted it to, but that’s racing,” Fisher said afterward, according to Letsrun. “We had to adapt to what was going on. I’m glad everything worked out today. I was hurting pretty bad at the beginning of the hill but I knew had to keep position on the hill or I’d be out of the race. On the donwhill, I really opened it up. I wasn’t feeling great to be honest but you aren’t going to feel great on this course.”
That thrilling finish wasn’t the end of the drama, as the next six competitors crossed within five seconds of one another. Oregon’s Matthew Maton—undefeated all season—took third in 15:19, completing a top-three sweep for 11th-graders. New York’s Mickey Burke and Washington’s Joe Hardy followed close behind in 15:20 and 15:22, respectively.
In the girls’ division, Pennsylvanian Tessa Barrett withstood an initial challenge from Iowa sophomore Stephanie Jenks to win the race in a time of 17:16. Jenks, who ran neck-and-neck with Barrett up to the 12:30 mark, fell back and finished ninth, watching as a group that included runner-up Hannah Debalsi of Connecticut (17:26) and third-place finisher Caroline Alcorta of Virginia (17:31) tried in vain to catch Barrett.
“It’s surreal,” said Barrett, whose 2013 Foot Locker win occurred during her first-ever West Coast trip and after her first airplane flight. “I can’t really believe it happened.”