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Team Granville : Ever Since He Was in Grade School, Michael Granville and His Father and Coach, Michael Sr., Have Charted a Careful, If Unorthodox, Course For the Budding Track Superstar. Will the Next Stop Be the '96 Olympics in Atlanta?

June 11, 1995|KIRBY LEE

The small grass field at Bell Gardens Elementary School is a ragged patchwork of dried turf and loose dirt hiding gopher holes, rocks and treacherous dips--hardly an ideal training site for an athlete of any level, let alone the nation's top high school 800-meter runner.

It is here, though, that Michael Granville II trains, battling exhaust fumes from the nearby 710 Freeway, fending off dogs and weaving his way around an occasional soccer or baseball player in his path. Perhaps the training grounds for the 1996 U.S. Olympic team will be more glamorous.

"The Olympics are on my mind," the Bell Gardens High junior said matter-of-factly. "In 1988, I remember watching the Olympics. In 1992, I really started getting into it. In the upcoming Olympics, I'm getting excited because I'm thinking I have a shot at this."

Bold words for a 17-year-old, but Granville has the credentials to back them up, with a progression of performances since age 10 that seem to point inevitably toward star status.

Under the strict guidance of his father, the only coach he has ever had, Granville has broken a succession of state and national age-group and high school records to become the third-fastest high school 800 runner of all time after a clocking of 1 minute 47.96 seconds in April.

He has the physique of an adult--6-feet, 1-inch tall and 180 pounds of smoothly tapered muscle--but Granville will be the lone high school athlete in the men's 800 meters in this week's United States Track and Field national championships in Sacramento. He will compete with the country's top collegians and athletes more than 10 years his senior for three places on the U.S. World Championship team.

"I'm not preparing myself for what they've been doing," Granville said calmly. "Give them credit and God bless them, but this is me running. We're right on pace to where I am supposed to be."

If he can lower his times sufficiently over the next year, Granville will join a long line of track stars from central Los Angeles who have gained fame and even fortune from the Olympic Games.

They include Jordan High's Florence Griffith-Joyner and Kevin Young, world record-holders in the women's 100 and 200 meters and men's 400-meter intermediate hurdles; Valerie Brisco-Hooks, the 1984 triple sprint gold medalist out of Locke High; and Johnny Gray of Crenshaw High, the American record-holder and 1992 bronze medalist in the 800.

Since he was age 11, when his father, Michael Granville Sr., first began entering him in youth races, Michael has recorded times that signaled a promising future.

As an eighth-grader at Bell Gardens Junior High, where he was the school's valedictorian, Granville timed 48.79 in the 400 and ran 1:56.3 for 800 meters at age 14. He also won the events in the 13-14 age division in the Junior Olympics.

"The times he ran in junior high would be excellent for a senior in high school," said Doug Speck, meet director of the Foot Locker/Arcadia Invitational and a senior editor for Track & Field News. "The times he is running now are extraordinary."

Nearly everything else about the teen-age track star is, too.

He's a top-notch scholar with an A-plus average; an aspiring architect whose artwork has rated public display; an exceptional all-around athlete who could walk onto his school's football, basketball or baseball teams were it not for his devotion to track--and to the wishes of his father.

"I've never worked with anyone other than my dad," Granville said. "That's the right connection. We understand each other and anybody else wouldn't fit in this clique we have here. They can't come between us. It's just me and him."

Parents coaching their sons or daughters is fairly common at the high school level, rare at the college level. Granville Sr., however, adamantly insists on sticking with his son as a coach at whatever college takes him.

More than 50 colleges, including track superpowers UCLA, USC, Arkansas, Houston and Georgia, have expressed interest in Granville. Wherever Granville chooses to go, the two vow to remain side by side.

"When you get him, you get me," Granville Sr. said. "When you get me, you get him. Together, you get records. It's not like at a certain age you can have him. The day Mike comes to me and says: 'Dad, that's it,' I'll say, 'OK.'

"We're black and poor--that means financial aid," he said. "He can work his way through college. He can go to college without track."

Bell Gardens Coach Fidel Elizarrez had no intentions of tampering with the father-son combination when Granville came to Bell Gardens High, allowing him to practice alone and apart from the high school team, though he does run for the team in almost all its dual meets and scores points in CIF competition for the Lancers.

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