THE MAN IS ON A TEAR. After coming frustratingly close to medals in the 5000 and 10,000 at Worlds, Grant Fisher wants to see what he has under the hood. Plenty, it seems. In his first two races since Eugene, he has nailed American Records at the 3000 and 5000.
The 3000 mark came August 10 in Monaco. “Going into the race, the American Record was 7:29-flat, and I’ve never run anywhere close to that. I had to convince myself that I was in the kind of fitness to chase something like that,” says Fisher. “I thought that on a perfect night, I could run around 7:29-flat.”
His best coming in was a 7:37.21 he ran in early ’21. But he was excited about the chance to race in Monaco: “It has a different allure to it, a different aura. It’s a meet I’ve been watching since I was a kid. I felt I could rip a really nice one. The pace requested was World Record pace [Daniel Komen’s vaunted 7:20.67 from ’96], so I knew I should hang off it a little bit, rather than trying to go and then hang on as best I could.
“It worked out great. The race really strung out and I managed to pick my way through the field. My split coming through was 3:58.6 for 1600, which is rather quick, especially knowing you have 3½ laps to go.
“That’s about the time of the race where you start to settle, maybe start thinking about the last lap or just about surviving and conserving. I was a bit surprised at how much I latched onto [the lights]. It’s nice to be able to focus on something rather than on how bad it hurts.”
In the end, Fisher felt very pleased with his 7:28.48. “It was about as good as it could have gone. Those margins were tight. I really think that was about everything I had that day. I don’t think any pace changes or the way the race played out could have had me run much faster than that. We had an advantage in that there were two sets of pacing lights.
“The rabbits went at WR pace, but the pacing light I was watching was set at 7:28. I knew if I could get within a second of that light, that would mean I could get the record. It was a really nice visual cue to have something to latch onto. I was pretty strung out.”
The way the calendar played out with the Commonwealth Games and European Championships coming after the Worlds, Fisher faced a long 3-week break before Brussels and chose to spend his time in London. “Just training,” he says. “It was a longer gap than I would have preferred. There weren’t a ton of racing opportunities until about a week ago. And at that point I just wanted to be fresh for the 5K. So quite a long hiatus, a lot of training, but hopefully it’s worth it.”
He made no secret of the fact that at Van Damme he was going after Bernard Lagat’s American Record of 12:53.60, a time he had barely missed with his American Indoor Record of 12:53.73 in February. Outdoors, his best remained his 13:02.53 from March ’21.
Basic armchair-coach math said that mark was seriously endangered. “Math is a good indicator,” he said beforehand, “but until I do anything about the outdoor PR, it remains 13:02. This is historically one of the fastest 5Ks of the year. A lot of people here want to run fast. I think it will be the perfect setup to get rid of that old PR.”
Indeed, Brussels did not disappoint, as he slashed the AR down to a stunning 12:46.96, a time that only 11 other humans have ever bettered. “That one was hard from the gun,” he says. “You know, sometimes you have 5Ks where it really doesn’t start hurting until later, but that one, we were riding the line from the gun. The pacing was perfect. We were running like 61-high pretty much the entire race. I just had one gear essentially, but thankfully it was a fast gear.
“I thought on my best day I could run around 12:50. When you’re at the end of the season, you just never know what you’re going to get out of your body. Sometimes you feel good, and then all of a sudden you fall off a cliff, especially as you get into September. So I didn’t know exactly what I’d get, but I thought if everything clicked right, I could run around 12:50.”
He adds, “I think I got everything out of myself that I could have. That’s a good feeling walking away.”
Add the 3000 and 5000 marks to his 10,000 record of 26:33.84 from March, and Fisher at age 25 has joined exalted company. Only two other American men have held all three marks at the same time: double Olympian Max Truex in the early ’60s and the iconic Steve Prefontaine in the mid ’70s. No one else has done it in the nearly 50 years since.
Says Fisher, “Prefontaine transcended the sport in a lot of ways and is still being talked about a half century later. It’s kind of crazy to hear my name with his, but he held the 2K AR as well, so he’s got me beat. I’ve got a little ways to go, but it is pretty cool.”
Indisputably America’s top distance runner these days, Fisher ponders what’s next in the waning days of a summer that has both frustrated and educated him. The 25-year-old had come to Eugene with the goal of making the podium and ended up with 4th and 6th-place finishes. The 5000 was particularly galling, with Fisher being in what looked like strong position to grab a medal with 100 to go only to be forced into the curb.
“It’s still on my mind,” he admits. “To come up a little short in the 10K and then really want redemption in that 5K. You know, you can do 99% of the race right, but at this point, the margins are really small and a 1% error can cost you a medal. I don’t think it was a guarantee that I was going to medal in the 5, but I would’ve liked to have had a full stride going into that last 100.
“Part of that’s situational, part of that’s on me — all of it will make me better. In the future, maybe don’t be on the inside shoulder with 100 to go, be on the outside. All things to learn. That would be learning the hard way, learning at the highest stage with the highest stakes. But sometimes those lessons are needed and they hit home harder. That’ll be on my mind for a long time, I think.”
To compete at this level at all, Fisher has had to see himself as deserving to be on the same line as the best runners on earth. And fans have seen the signs of the next big step — racing aggressively in that company: “It’s easier to be more aggressive and more in the race when you’re in better fitness. My first race against these guys, I was a little outclassed, and when you’re outclassed, you can’t really dictate a race too much. You just kind of hang on.
“So as my fitness has improved, it’s a bit of a comfort just being around these big names and experiencing it. As those chances come, I think each to me it’s less of like, ‘Cheptegei just moved’ and more of ‘One of my competitors just moved’ — if that makes sense. I feel more of a belonging now and with each race that sense grows.
“These are confidence boosts. Just to feel things out a little bit and know my limits a little better and know my strength relative to the others and know their strengths relative to me.”
Burning with a desire to make a major podium, Fisher will take his break after the Diamond League Final and prepare for next year’s Worlds in Budapest, and the Olympics beyond. His goals are no secret and he is making his fans the same promise that he makes to himself: “I’ve felt like I’ve made a really big step forward as far as confidence, racing the best guys in the world, as far as times and gaining the fitness required to be there at the end of a championship race and a Diamond League race. Hopefully, I’ll be building on that next year. I want a medal.”