Galen Rupp has been groomed for years by coach Alberto Salazar at the Nike-sponsored Oregon Distance Project in Portland. Now at age 25 the American 10,000 meter champion is moving into his peak years, and still may have medal hopes for London 2012. But more and more that possibility is looking less and less likely. Either you’ve got the wheels or you don’t, and when we are talking distance running at the rarified atmosphere of the World Championship and Olympic medal level, Galen just doesn’t seem to possess the raw speed necessary to contend.
Today, in Daegu, South Korea, Rupp hung with the very best distance men in the world through 23 1/2 laps in the 10,000 meter final of the World Championships. But when the racing for the medals began in earnest a lap and a half out, Galen was unable to respond, and had to settle for seventh place, 13-seconds behind the champion Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia. His is now the conundrum for all distance men – hell, all runners. We all start out as sprinters, then move up to find our sweetest distance.
We have seen this for decades, the plight of the strength runner in a speed man’s game. Remember that Alberto himself was at one time the American record holder at 5000 (13:11) and 10,000 meters (27:25). But eight days before besting Dick Beardsley in their legendary “Duel in the Sun” at the 1982 Boston Marathon, Al was gunned down at a special 10,000 he’d arranged at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon by the great (but chubby at the time) Henry Rono of Kenya, 27:29 to 27:30.
Steve Jones of Wales was a formidable 10,000 meter runner in the early 1980s, too, but he didn’t have the nitrous tank to go to when pink slips and shiny medals were up for grabs. So he, too, was lured to the marathon where that kind of speed was less necessary. Next thing we knew, he, like Alberto before him, became the world’s best over the longer distance.
And most recently, in Oslo last year at the Bislett Games 21-year-old Bekana Daba of Ethiopia ran 12:58.51 for 5000 meters, good for ninth place. For that he earned all of $500. Since it cost him $700 to fly from Addis Ababa to Oslo, his 12:58 COST him $200! But after seeing his friend Gebre Gebremariam win the ING New York City Marathon last November, Daba, then 22, put two and two together, and he ended up coming up with $39,000 payday by winning the Houston Marathon this January in a course record 2:07:04.
But with Galen Rupp taking home a healthy check from Nike every month, he has the luxury to maintain his focus on the track, regardless the results as he attempts to develop the closing speed that now eluded him. And one hopes, for his sake, that path will lead to glory.
Problem may well be that by the time he moves up in distance sometime after London 2012 the current trend of younger talent out of East Africa trickling into the marathon will have become a mass migration as they follow the only real money in the sport. Then what, join my friend Josh Cox at 50K?