I think he’s the best marathoner in America right now, though he has never even run one. Olympic 10,000 meter silver medalist and American record holder Galen Rupp announced today on USATF.TV that he will make his marathon debut at the February 13th Olympic Trials in Los Angeles. Talk about throwing a switch on the electricity (and strategy) of that race!
Before Rupp’s announcement the consensus was that Meb and Ritz as the two experienced Olympic marathoners, and only two sub-2:09 Americans in the last three years, were the favorites with everybody else bunched behind them in what promised to be a generational turnover in the ranks of American marathoning. That’s always how it’s been with the U.S. Trials, a pivot point in the sport.
Young talent like Jared Ward, third in LA last year and reigning U.S. Marathon champion (2:12:55), is in good form according to coach (and two-time Olympian) Ed Eyestone. In fact, Jared was in LA yesterday (Wednesday 27 Jan.) taking a tour of the trials course. The fastest American marathoner of 2015, Luke Puskedra, comes in off a 2:10:24 seventh place in Chicago, while another talented group of newly minted Americans join Rupp in making their debuts at the distance — Joe Vigil-coached Diego Estrada, along with Kenyan-born Sam Chelanga and Aron Rono — have all the talent needed to produce a top three performance in LA.
But isn’t this Rupp story the beauty of the sport? Just as we lose one great name and personality from the lead pack with news of Ryan Hall‘s retirement, we get another taking his place in Galen Rupp. Then consider that his coach Al Salazar famously made his own marathon debut with a victory at the 1980 New York City Marathon in a then American debut record 2:09:41 — later tied by Alan Culppepper in Chicago 2002, before being bettered by Ryan Hall in London 2007 at 2:08:24.
Recall, too, that Meb was the 27:13 10,000 meter U.S. record holder before moving to the marathon in 2002. Galen is a 26:44 10,000 meter man (2014) who ran a controlled 61:20 at the Foot Traffic Holiday Half Marathon in Portland, Ore. December 13th. He has all the tools to step up in distance smoothly, including, from my viewing, a more efficient stride for the distance compared to friend and teammate Mo Farah — THE FALL, THE FAINT, THE FORM.
And with the Olympic Trials being a place rather than time focused event, it plays into Galen’s track-honed hands much better than when Mo Farah debuted in London two years ago where he got dropped midway in a fast paced, big city affair that did not play to his kicker’s strength. Still, Mo finished eighth in his maiden voyage in 2:08:21. So if that’s the measuring stick, Rupp’s ticket on the 2016 Rio Olympic team may include two berths, a feat last achieved by Dan Browne in 2004.
There are some who say Rupp is giving up what would be a certain six-figure appearance fee at one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors by debuting for free at the Trials. But due to his lucrative Nike contract Galen has always had the luxury of picking his races for purely sporting rather than financial reasons. Besides, make this team, and the big city boys will pay plenty. Believe that!
We have been complaining about the lack of juice in the marathon. Well, this puts a jolt into it for sure.