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Rupp_Galen1a-OlyTr16.JPGGalen Rupp just does it, photo by PhotoRun.net

Champion Savors Win

Back in March during the first round of the men's 3000 meters at the U.S. Indoor Championships, a good number of spectators - not all - shook their heads as Galen Rupp struggled through a ragged outing - finishing 8th in a field of 16. Was this the beginning of Rupp's slide into mediocrity? These very same fans most certainly had overlooked the fact that Rupp, still in recovery mode, had recently triumphed in the Olympic Marathon Trials - his first attempt at the 26 mile 385 yard distance - just 4 weeks earlier.

It's quite a different story now. On a day when a number of celebrated American athletes - revered veterans Sanya Richards Ross, Duane Solomon, Reese Hoffa, Adam Nelson, Amy Acuff, and youngsters Vernon Norwood, Donovan Brazier, and Laura Roesler - saw their dreams for this Olympics vanish, Galen Rupp did what he has done each of the last 7 years: he won the national championship 10,000 meter run.

The race was curious indeed. Under a hot, unforgiving, late afternoon sun, 27 aspiring distance runners - 11 of whom had earlier secured a sub-28:00 Olympic standard clocking - launched off on what proved to be one of the strangest 10,000 meter championship races in recent memory. Hoka One athlete Ben Bruce took on the chore of early leader, rhythmically cranking out 70 second 400's. Rupp - normally content to lay back in the pack and let the race unfold - was uncharacteristically positioned near the front, pivoting between 2nd and 4th. After passing 2K's in 5:46, Rupp began to shake things up with a 6th circuit in 66 seconds to quickly gain a 15 meter advantage over a chase pack led by Diego Estrada. Approaching 4K - passed in 11:23 - Rupp, toying with the field, backed off the gas, allowing Estrada and the chase pack to reconnect. The 7-time defending champion nestled into 3rd with Bernard Lagat in 5th as the tempo eased. The breather was short lived as the pesky Rupp once again charged to the front with 13 laps remaining. While Rupp's first surge was largely ignored, this second tempo increase evoked some response as both Shadrack Kipchirchir and Lagat gave chase. Soon the trio was united as they pulled away from a chase pack consisting of Hassan Mead, Sam Chelanga, and Ben True. The lead threesome sailed past 7K in 20:15 - Rupp pushing the pace, Kipchirchir tucked in right behind and Lagat struggling to maintain contact. And then it happened: Shortly after being passed by Mead, Lagat - overheated and exhausted - pulled up with 2400 meters remaining, laid down on the track and began pouring water on himself. Before long, Mead - running third and with a Rio ticket within his grasp - began to falter. Another victim of the pace and the heat, a wobbling Mead was soon passed by Leonard Korir. One lap later a spent and distraught Mead - reduced to jogging - would hurl his Oakleys on the track in disgust. Lagat and Mead would be 2 of 7 athletes to DNF in the withering heat.

Meanwhile, Rupp and Kipchirchir, sailing along, continued to battle up front. With 450 meters remaining, the Army athlete threw down a sudden move which momentarily caught the Oregon Project athlete off guard. Kipchirchir had three steps on Rupp at the bell. The reigning silver medalist at 10,000m didn't panic. Quietly regrouping, Rupp covered Kipchirchir's move by the backstretch as the capacity crowd anxiously waited for the next punch to be thrown. With a half lap remaining, Rupp threw down a devastating move which quickly ended the drama. With a final lap of 62, Rupp crossed the line in 27:55.04 to secure his 8th consecutive 10,000 meter crown. Kipchirchir crossed next in 28:01.52 while his Army teammate Korir - grabbing the final ticket to Rio - finished 3rd in 28:16.97. A strong finish by Scott Fauble [28:45.53] allowed him to slide ahead of Chris Derrick [28:47.24] for 4th.

Afterwards, runner-up Kipchirchir - drenched in sweat - was thrilled to be heading to Rio. "I just came here to make the team. That was the main goal," explained the Dan Browne-coached Army athlete. He analyzed his drive to the front coming up to the bell. "I was excited to see how it would go. I think I went too early. [Rupp] is a great competitor." And Kipchirchir reflected obvious pride at making Team USA. "It is really great. This is my first time on the team. I am proud of that."

The winner offered his take on his 8th consecutive 10,000m championship victory. "This is one of the harder ones, I'd say - if not the hardest," admitted Rupp. "That's because of the heat and the great competition. You're talking really, really good guys out there." Dishing out the pain was part of Rupp's race strategy. "I planned to surge," he explained. "I didn't want to make it easy out there. I've been doing a lot of stuff in the heat getting ready for Rio down the road. I knew it was going to be hot. I wanted to make it a tough race."

Rupp tipped his hat to Kipchirchir who made him work over that final kilometer. "He was right there. I knew it was going to be a real battle at the end," offered the repeat champion. "With a couple laps to go, I was really gearing up for a big finish. I'd hoped to break away, but I didn't. So I knew I was going to have a real tough last couple laps on my hands. And he made it tough."

Looking ahead, Rupp knows he has Olympic options - and decisions - in front of him. "I'm keeping my options open," he declared. "I'll definitely do the 10K [in Rio]. I plan on coming back in the 5 [here in the Trials] for sure. Would I run the 5 [in Rio]? It's a possibility. It's not out of the question. I'm just taking it one race at a time." When pressed if he would attempt an Olympic triple if he qualifies in the 5000 meters. "Probably not," he laughs. "I'd have to pick two. Right now, it's all about rest and recovery and getting ready to come back in a couple of days."

These championship gatherings constantly remind us that - like everything in life - success in track & field is fleeting. It is to be embraced and savored before it inevitably slips away. At the post-race press conference, Galen Rupp - often guarded and subdued - was relaxed and radiant, as if he understands the lack of permanency that accompanies his incredible stretch of successes and the importance of enjoying the moment while it is still firmly in his grasp. "For me, it's special," Rupp revealed. "I'm just so thrilled to be able to represent my country again. Personally, just to have my kids here and my family, it's been very special for me." No apparent heir has yet emerged who has displayed the potential to break the impregnable hold the 30-year old distance star has on the 10,000. It may be that only Father Time - still undefeated - is the one who ultimately will.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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