Portland pair looks ready for Olympic 5,000/10,000 double attempt
EUGENE - For the longest time, Galen Rupp wasn't sure whether he would run the Bowerman mile or the 5,000 meters at the Prefontaine Classic.
Boy, did the former Central Catholic and Oregon standout make the right choice.
If Rupp didn't run the race of his life, it was pretty close Saturday as he finished third in the Pre 5,000 at Hayward Field.
The 26-year-old Portlander's 12:58.90 clocking was a personal record by nearly eight seconds and the fastest time run by an American on U.S. soil.
Rupp beat five heralded members of the Kenyan distance-running stable and finished behind only training mate Mo Farah, the native of Great Britain who won in a 2012 world-best and meet-record 12:56.98, and 18-year-old Kenyan wunderkind Isaiah Kiplangat Koech, who was second in 12:57.63.
Among those vanquished by Rupp was Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele, the world record-holder and defending Olympic gold medalist at both 5,000 and 10,000 who was fourth in 13:01.48.
It was a momentous day for the Nike Oregon Project and Alberto Salazar, who coaches both Farah and Rupp.
'I was not surprised,' said Salazar, the former Olympic marathoner. 'If the weather had been better, they were both ready to run in the low 12:50s. It was just a little too windy.'
The 5-11, 140-pound Rupp was more enthused with his conquest of Bekele and the other great Africans than with his PR.
'We came in with a goal just to compete,' he said. 'We weren't worried about time at all. We knew it would be a quick pace; the time takes care of itself. It's an Olympic year, so it's more about place than anything else.'
Two weeks ago, Rupp had run the 1,500 in a PR 3:34.75, just behind Farah's winning time of 3:34.66.
'That was a good indicator of speed,' Rupp said. 'I've been working on my strength. Put those two together, I knew I was due for a good outing.
'It took me awhile to break 4 minutes in the mile; it doesn't mean I wasn't in good shape. The time today is just a bonus to a good race.'
Still, cracking the 13-minute barrier was significant as he and Farah prepare for a 5,000/10,000 double at the London Olympic Games in August.
'I'm real pleased with (Rupp),' Salazar said. 'He is finally under 13. We knew he was going to do it. It's good to finally get that monkey off his back.
'He didn't run as fast as Mo, but Mo is the best distance runner in the world right now. Galen knows if he can just train with Mo and stay close to him. that he has a shot at a medal. He has the best training partner in the world.'
Farah, 29, moved to Portland 18 months ago to train under Salazar and with Rupp. The results were immediate. He earned gold at 5K and silver at 10K at last year's world championships in Daegu and set a PR of 12:53.11 in the former distance.
'It's working well,' the 5-9, 140-pound Farah said. 'I'm running faster and more consistent. Alberto is a great coach. He has been there himself; it's nice to have someone who can understand. He can give something back to us.'
Farah and Rupp hung back through the middle laps, drafting off the leaders, then made their move to the front the final two laps. Farah held off the hard-charging Koech while Rupp had no trouble fighting off Bekele for third.
'The win was more important than the time,' Farah said. 'It was nice to get a win against a good field. I love coming to Hayward Field. The crowd got behind us. I was pleased to win and to see my training partner go under 13.
'It was windy today, so the conditions weren't as perfect as what we'd love. But the most important thing was to get a win under my belt.'
Beating Bekele and his African brethren 'is a good feeling, for sure,' Rupp said. 'But I have to work on my finish, be up with (Farah) at the end. That's what it's going to be like this summer. It's what I have to be ready for.'
Farah has been an ideal mate for Rupp, on and off the track.
'It's the best thing that could have happened to me for my career,' he said. 'Being with a guy who is so relaxed .... we were joking around, warming up before the race, kicking the soccer ball around.
'It's been great having someone who is on top of his game, and I can learn from, but at the same time is so grounded. He keeps things fun. We have a great time together. It makes things easy when it comes time to compete.'
Rupp often deals with allergies this time of year in the Willamette Valley, so he was pleased to be greeted by comparatively cool weather conditions Saturday.
'My luck finally turned with this meet,' he said with a smile. 'I was praying for rain last night. I was psyched this morning when I saw it was drizzling.
'I talked to my doctor, he said this was the best thing I could ask for. I knew it wasn't going to be an issue. I'm happy to get a good race in.'
Farah and Rupp will both shoot for a double at London in the 5K and 10K, with Rupp attempting to qualify for both races in the U.S. Olympic trials at Hayward three weeks from now.
'The schedule is good for that at both the (U.S.) trials and the Olympics,' Salazar said. 'You finish the 10,000 (finals), get two days rest, then have the 5K heats, then two days rest before the finals.'
Salazar has had both Farah and Rupp training at altitude in Park City, Utah, the past two weeks, and will take them there again to train for a couple of weeks before the U.S. trials.
'This was a hard race today,' Rupp said. 'I wanted it to be a good, hard effort. It's going to be hard coming back from the 10K (at the trials and Olympics). I'm glad we ran a 5K today. It's a really good indicator, a good simulation of what it's going to feel like' at the trials and Olympics.
Africans have dominated the world distance races for decades, but that may slowly be changing as U.S. athletes, headlined by Rupp, are emerging.
'We have to be able to compete,' he said. 'It's big that we have guys running fast now, but it doesn't matter if they're getting seventh or eighth place in every race.
'The next step for America is to get people up there competing. We have to start winning and placing high now.'
As exhilarating as Saturday's meet was for Rupp, it was quite the opposite for former UO teammate Andrew Wheating, who had nothing in the tank at the end of the Bowerman mile, finishing 15th and last in 3:56.77.
'Rock bottom is a very sour taste,' said the former NCAA champion at 800 and 1,500 and 2008 Olympian at 800. 'I hate that feeling. I have some work to do.'
Wheating, 24, typically hangs back and storms home with a furious kick. It never materialized Saturday.
'I've never been that far behind and unable to catch up,' Wheating said. 'It felt like I was running out of gas the last two (laps) and slowly, slowly, slowly. ... I came to the final lap, it was, 'No way. I can't maintain this pace. How am I supposed to pick it up and catch people?'
'By 200 to go, I was deflated. I've never felt that. It's a learning experience, but very disappointing. I lost my strength after lap two. That's not how you run the mile.'
Wheating is unsure whether he will run the 800 or 1,500 at the trials.
'At the moment, they're both still on the table,' he said. 'We'll see. It wasn't very encouraging finishing behind all the Americans today. Not the most encouraging race.
'I was hoping for a little bit of confidence to come out of this. Not much did. I hope I make the Olympic team so I can have another crack at it.'
There's not a lot of time for Wheating to get his act together.
Rupp, meanwhile, appears ready to ride the wave of confidence from Saturday's performance on to a boffo summer of '12.