A "German" Invasion Worth It's Place in History

Story written by Eric.

Achtung! Achtung! A skinny soldier-of-one has been on the loose, and no one has been capable of finding the "off" switch to keep the 17-year-old kid from Riverbank, CA from marching forward and destroying everything in site through the Great War of 2008 - also known as one of the best prep athletics seasons on record in the United States of America.

He's been armed with two spiked shoes, a white uniform and a desire to be all he can be, and he has pushed, pulled, strained and leaned his way into the promised land one kampf at a time. His has not been a personal engagement to take over the top - at least not any of the 50 states which make up his country, but to fire the traditional limits people have placed on running fast times and excellent races.

That he'd be on the top when all was said and done - when the great "German" invasion had finally reached its climax, was going to be a given. The question was how much real estate would he conquer, and how many roads along the prep record books would lead through Riverbank, and not Rome, so-to-speak.

He was brought up in the wake of "AJ's Nation", but failed this past winter to deliver the national title the state of California and the Footlocker West Region expected of him following his victories over iconic names like Marc Davis and Jeff Nelson; the precocious prep was not merely battling his contemporary state rivals, he was left chasing the footprints left long ago by national champion and national-record holding legends on the fields as well as around oval tracks.

He promised to take no prisoners as he stormed through the national prep scene during the final year he would spend discovering what the essence of becoming a man was all about, but was left in want in San Diego last December.

Following a record run (14.24) at the California state meet (in which he shoved Davis out of the record books following a 21-year footprint left on the highest peaks of Woodward Park's course - I race I witnessed after having competed in a junior division) and a victory the following week in the West Regional (14.53), the regionally-tested solidier could not muster enough energy to stampede past the gates his toughest opposition were guarding.

He returned home an All-American, but not the best American on that given day.

He couldn't break down the barriers in the United States when the winter months had drawn near, so he expanded his battle ground further, to a point on another continent - Europe - and attempted to find solace in a country called Scotland.

There, running on the same grounds covered in another race by world-record holder Kenenisa Bekele, the young American, who doesn't know much about the history of his sport, would march a long way around an 8km course in search of the magic of perfection and winning whilst fighting against the best.

Winning, though he competed well and ran fast, would once again elude him as he found his finishing drive more than a minute short of his counterparts - this, despite having won the American battle against people of the same age group a few weeks before setting sail to Europe.

German Fernandez returned home to the United States following a 25th place effort at the IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships in March and set off on a series of paces, times and efforts which, when compared to any American prep boy in the past 40 years, has never been rivaled.

Fernandez has made it straight past "go", and into the upper echelons of running where high school gods before him reside, and he're why:

He has fired "impossible" and hired a mindset of never giving - a strategy which has cost his closest rivals every good sense of pace and has also caused them to lose state and national titles.

Fernandez did so at the CA CIF State Meet three week-ends ago when, having run a 4.11 1.600m qualification race the previous evening, ran the best one-day prep distance double in USA history on Saturday, 2008-May-31. He reached the finish line first at Cerritos College in Norwalk, CA in the 1.600m in 4.00,29 - a state record, and returned two-and-a-half hours later to complete the eight-lap 3.200m race in a National Federation record time of 8 minutes 24,23 seconds.

No prep had ever run 3.200m in a high school-only race faster than 8.41,10 which Dathan Ritzenhein, who won not one, but two coveted national cross country titles which had eluded Fernandez, had accomplished in the spring of 2000. Fernandez found his revenge to a degree, but had accomplished his feat at the bastard distance of 3.200m - one which required a conversion to compare to Nelson's 2-mile high school record of 8.36,3.

He ran his 1.600m with such ease and an even pace that pundits from across the globe began wondering what he could have accomplished had he set out at a faster earlier tempo and didn't have the second race on schedule that evening.

What could he have run in the mile had he gone full-out? Could he have gone sub-4.00?

A moot point according to the Fernandez camp.

The question became one of if he could run under 8.36,3 for 2 miles - or run two 4.18 times without stopping - in a prep-only race. That was the answer for which they were searching.

They received their answer in grand fashion on Friday evening, 2008-June-20, when Fernandez, after running a 4.19,6 first mile at the Nike Outdoor Nationals - 1,3 seconds over pace, dug down and covered the next four laps in 4.14,8 - a spirited finish which gave Fernandez the new title of national champion, and, more importantly, entrance into the upper echelons where national record-holders like Jim Ryun and Gerry Lindgren also resided during their prep years.

And so "air-MAHN" Fernandez, as it is pronounced in his modest home in the Sac Joachin Valley of California - a place he's found quite restful after having moved more than 10 times before his parents settled down from Watsonville, has invaded the record books, leaving behind scattered names and debris in the CAL state 1.600m and 3.200m; a National Federation 3.200m record; and a 3.000m and 2-mile record to match his cross country state record.

His has been a long battle against injury and frustration, but the humble boy from a humble home has now catapulted himself up and over every single, solitary person who has ever contested a high school 2-mile, and he's now wisely called it a season.

Fernandez is headed to Oklahoma State University, where he will compete for the Cowboys.

Sooner or later, Fernandez will elevate his status among the collegiate men and again take no prisoners as he reaches for his next set of goals.

Right now, however, with his legs trained, tried and tired, it's time for the Applebee's employee to step away from the whirlwind which he created and move on to better days - if there is such a thing following this dream season.

Dave Kemp, Nelson's high-school coach, said none were comparable to Nelson.

"The guy was from another planet," Kemp said in an interview printed on 1990-August-11.

"He was a one-in-a-million kid. The first time I saw Jeff run, I couldn't believe someone could come out of the woodwork with that kind of talent."

It has taken 27 years to find that second talent among the millions who have competed year in and year out since Nelson graduated and attended the University of Oregon, though one hopes and trusts that the pitfalls which eventually broke the bank on Nelson's career do not crop up in the future Fernandez camp.

Fernandez has exemplified the traits which make a winner a champion - the two are not always synonymous. He has personified the very rare ability to stop, look and listen whilst moving as quickly as he can, one determined step at a time into a future in which only time will tell what it holds in store.

Before he is ushered off into the real world - where his steps around the track and over the cross country courses will help pay for his meals and books, here's hoping Fernandez enjoys a nice break from this chapter in his life, which, though it has been a surreal experience, can never be repeated.

Jeff Nelson's 1979 season at 2 miles:
  • 8.55,0y Burbank Invitational
  • 8.36,3y Pepsi
  • 8.51,3y CIF the 3-A finals
  • 8.49,1y CIF Masters
  • 8.47,35y CA State
German Fernandez's season in 2008:
  • 8.53,60m WAC/TVL Challenge
  • 9.00,10m CA SJS D-3
  • 8.45,08m CA SJS Masters
  • 8.34,23m CA State
  • 8.34,40y NON

C.F.P.I. Timing & Data - Contractor License
Nike Outdoor Nationals - 6/19/2008 to 6/21/2008
North Carolina A+T University, Greensboro, NC

Event 13 Boys 2 Mile Run
Section 1 at 6:50pm; Section 2 at 8:00pm
National: $ 8:36.3h 5/6/1979 Jeff Nelson, Burbank, CA
Meet: M 8:41.55 6/15/2007 Matt Centrowitz, Broadneck,
Freshman: F 9:04.4h 1973 Eric Hulst, Laguna Beach, C
Sophomore: O 8:50.6h 1974 Eric Hulst, Laguna Beach, C
Junior: J 8:41.10 2000 Dathan Ritzenhein (m), Rock
Senior: S 8:36.3h 5/6/1979 Jeff Nelson, Burbank, CA
Freshm: 9:01.68 2005 Sintayehu Taye (m), Portlan
Name Year School Finals
1 Fernandez, German 08 Riverbank, CA 8:34.40S
2 Puskedra, Luke 08 Ogden, UT 8:47.06O
3 Lowe, Colby 08 Southlake, TX 8:47.07O
4 Finnerty, Robert 08 Burnsville, MN 8:50.96F
5 Williams, Kevin 08 Lakewood, CO 8:51.30F
6 Darling, Maverick 08 Ovid, MI 8:57.80F
7 Aprill, Bobby 08 Dexter, MI 8:59.50F
8 Unterreiner, Miles 08 Gig Harbor, WA 9:02.48F
9 Kaulbach, Max 08 Philadelphia, PA 9:06.44
10 Keveren, Sean 08 Brentwood, TN 9:06.59
11 Medrano, Francisco 08 Lafayette, IN 9:06.75
12 Hill, Ryan 08 Hickory, NC 9:07.36
13 Haile, Solomon 09 Silver Spring, MD 9:07.66
14 Abdalla, Mohamed 08 San Jose, CA 9:08.61
15 Smith, Douglas 09 Succasunna, NJ 9:11.48
16 Bazell, Graham 09 Columbia, MD 9:13.06
17 Lovelace, Luke 08 Chapin, SC 9:18.61
18 Krause, Elliot 08 Appleton, WI 9:19.00
19 Springer, Andrew 09 Westerly, RI 9:21.13
20 Nicolls, Bobby 09 Parker, CO 9:23.42
21 Bodary, Chris 08 Downingtown, PA 9:23.45
22 O'Donnell, MacLean 08 Oak Ridge, TN 9:25.15
23 Udland, Tyler 10 Short Hills, NJ 9:25.80
24 Lachowitzer, Kevin 08 Perham, MN 9:26.62
25 Bosshard, Joe 08 Crested Butte, CO 9:36.33
26 Hernandez, Francis 10 Windham, NH 9:41.53
-- DelBene, Colby 08 Patterson, NY DNF
-- Beabout, Ryan 08 Wheeling, WV DNS
-- Sheinbaum, Julian 08 Scarsdale, NY DNS

Foto credit: Fresno Bee