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From Niwot to Tokyo: Work ethic propels Elise Cranny to Olympic Games

Eight-time state champ representing U.S. in 5K

Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer compete in the Women’s 5000 Meter Final during day four of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 21, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon.
Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer compete in the Women’s 5000 Meter Final during day four of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 21, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon.

Typically it’s not much of an issue for Bob Cranny or his wife Sandy to recognize elite athleticism.

In younger days, Bob competed in 10 Ironman triathlons with two invitations to the annual World Championships in Hawaii, and has spent the past 30 years as a respected physical therapist. His wife Sandy was no slouch either, competing in eight Ironman triathlons with three invitations to the Hawaii World Championships.


Still, despite that wealth of expertise, and despite Cranny and her siblings frequently tagging along to their parents’ weekly “Strokes-and-Strides” workouts at Boulder Reservoir, the couple wasn’t sure just what to expect out of their short but spunky oldest child, Elise.

The eldest of three girls, Elise Cranny wasn’t short on enthusiasm in any sport she attempted. Eventually it wasn’t necessarily her athletic prowess that set her apart. In her pre-teen and early teen years, while returning from swim meets in Golden, Cranny often forced her father to the side of the road along Highway 93 so she could run the final 10 miles to her family’s home in Niwot.

That dogged work ethic made Cranny one of the most decorated track and cross country athletes in Colorado prep history. It sped her through a personally disappointing yet nonetheless impressive career at Stanford, and soon that work ethic will have her toeing the starting line for Team USA in the 5,000 meter run at the Tokyo Olympics.

“From a talent perspective, there wasn’t that moment that I saw where you go, ‘Wow, she’s Olympic quality,’” Bob Cranny recalled. “In high school, I thought maybe she could have a nice, solid career at college and contribute to a team. But the one thing that I noticed, maybe around her junior year (at Niwot High), her work ethic and her dedication and her commitment to the sport really took over. Never missing a practice or workout. Always doing what her coaches designed for her to a T.

“I thought if she could continue this, and as a physical therapist I’ve seen this — talent is important, but you don’t have to be super talented. You have to have talent, but you can make up for it with this kind of dedication and work ethic. There would be times at 11 o’clock at night on a winter night, and she didn’t get her workout in, and she’d be getting changed to go do hill repeats.”

Cranny first made headlines as a junior at Niwot, unleashing a stirring come-from-behind surge down the stretch to pass Air Academy and future Pac-12 star Katie Rainsberger to win the 2012 Class 4A state cross country title. The following spring, Cranny took home state track titles in the 800, 1,600, and 3,200.

She repeated her cross country title in 2013, prevailing in a loaded field that included Rainsberger, future Boise State standout Alison Deitsch, and fellow 2021 Olympian Valerie Constien, a former CU star who made Team USA in the 3,000 steeplechase. Cranny capped her stellar prep career by collecting repeat state titles in all three of her track events.

While her father said Cranny’s lack of an NCAA title at Stanford was a source of disappointment, it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Cranny collected four runner-up finishes at the NCAA championships while at Stanford, including missing out on the 1,500 title in 2017 by just .0004 of a second.

When Cranny takes off in Tokyo — the first round of the 5K is scheduled for July 30 at 4 a.m. MT — she will be a world away from those glory days at Niwot. Yet it’s an experience Cranny has carried with her throughout her career. Former Niwot cross country coach Tim Flamer recently recounted a moment one summer when Cranny, already established, reached out to see if the Cougars were hitting the trails for a workout. She insisted on tagging along.

“That’s just the type of person she is, she’s always sending me a text and I’m kind of flattered by it,” said Niwot track coach Maurice Henriques. “I know she’s busy. But she still takes the time to reach out. She just has a special place in my heart. And not just because she’s an Olympian, but because of who she is. She’s a humble, hard-working person who just wants to give back.”