Galen Rupp fought back when Bernard Lagat went by with 200 meters to go, and won the 5,000 meters, giving him the 5,000m/10,000m double at the 2012 Trials, and also breaking the meet record of the late Steve Prefontaine.
Dick Patrick focused on the Men’s 5,000 meters, Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat’s race. Final fact, out of 15 times that Rupp and Lagat have battled, this was Rupp’s first victory.
By Dick Patrick
June 29, 2012
Flash back to the summer of 2007 and the world championships in Osaka, Japan. Galen Rupp, then a 21-year-old University of Oregon student at his first major international meet, got to the practice track for a workout at the same time as teammate Bernard Lagat, then 32 and representing the U.S. for the first time after stellar results as a Kenyan.
By chance the teammates were doing similar workouts of 300-meter repeats. The difference was that Lagat, who would go on to win an unprecedented 1,500/5,000 double, was running them in 39 seconds. Rupp, who took 11th in the 10,000, was running 43s.
It was a teaching moment for Alberto Salazar, a former marathon great who has been Rupp’s coach for 13 years: “I told (Galen) some day you’ve got to be fast enough to do a workout like this three days before a major championship and it’s easy for you because you’re so fast. That’s the kind of speed you need.”
After years of work, the speed appears to be there for Rupp, who became more of an Oregon legend and more of the state’s favorite son by defeating Lagat in a stirring stretch duel Thursday at the U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000. The win made Rupp, who won the 10,000 Friday, the first Trials 5-10K winner since Curtis Stone in 1952.
As he did in the 10,000, Rupp set a Trials record. His time of 13:22.67 broke the record of 13:22.8, set in 1972 by distance icon and Oregon folk hero Steve Prefontaine. After the race, Rupp was summoned for an audience with Phil Knight, a former Oregon miler and co-founder of Nike.
“I’m on cloud nine,” Rupp said. “This is great. I couldn’t have been happier the way the meet went. I couldn’t be any luckier or more blessed to run here.”
Rupp couldn’t have asked to win the race in a more gratifying manner as he outkicked Lagat, who was second (13:22.82). Lopez Lomong (13:24.67) took the third and final spot for the London Olympics in August. “This is a good step in my process of getting better and being up there with the top guys at the end at the Games,” Rupp said.
Rupp was 0-12 against Lagat coming into the final. “I’d be lying if I wasn’t really happy to beat Bernard,” Rupp said. “He’s just a class act both on and off the track. I’ve looked up to him a really long time. I don’t want to make him seem old, but I remember in high school looking up to him a lot and being in awe at what he was able to do at the end.”
The training emphasis for the past year has been improving Rupp’s late race speed. As Salazar did in Osaka five years ago, he delivered straight talk to Rupp before the race. “I told him ‘I want you to win but the most important thing I want to see is you beating people the last 100 meters. You have to beat people the last 100 meters. … You’re not going to medal in London if you’re not able to beat people the last 100.'”
The idea was to get in a last-lap duel rather than making a push with more than a couple of laps left. Salazar’s message was that if Rupp couldn’t outkick the competition in Eugene, he wouldn’t be able to do it in London either.
Said Rupp, who started with Salazar as a freshman at Central Catholic High in Portland: “He’s pretty blunt with me. That’s what I love about him. He’s not scared to give it to me straight and tell me what I need to do.”
Rupp hit the bell lap with the lead, chased by Lagat and Lomong. Down the backstretch, Lagat surged ahead, Rupp fighting to stay with him. “If someone goes around you, you can’t let them gap you,” Rupp said. “You’ve just got to go with them. (Alberto’s) been telling me a long time that especially at Hayward, the crowd’s going to get going and you’ll be right there and get that jolt of energy the last little bit. I think I finally got to experience that today.”
Lagat led into the homestretch, Rupp still fighting and starting to gain ground as he thought, “Keep your form. Keep driving to the finish.” As Lagat’s eyeballs rolled back with his effort, Rupp passed him about 20 meters from the finish, punching the air as he crossed the line.
Rupp burned the last lap in 52.4, finishing the last 200 in 25.9. “Bernard’s one of the best closers of all time,” Rupp said. “He’s shown that time and time again. He’s done that to me time and time again. I’m happy with the way I’m progressing. It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time. I’m thrilled it happened here.
“We’re still going to continue to work on that. You don’t win medals and you don’t win races by not beating people in the last 100 meters. Ultimately, to be great you have to close really fast. I’ve learned a lot through Bernard. He’s talked to me a lot after races in the past. He’s just a class act. He’s told me you’ve got to be patient and be smart when you go at the end. But you’ve got to beat people at the end. You’re not going to break them earlier.”
Lagat learned a lesson Thursday. He figured his closing speed suffered because he led a mid-race chase pack that eventually reeled in Mo Trafeh (10th, 13:36.19) and Brandon Bethke (16th, 14:03.37), who traded the early lead.
“That finishing kick I did not have quite yet especially after going hard in the middle to close the gap,” Lagat said. “Those are the things I will be working on so I will be able to run strong and retain my kick.”
Lagat was impressed with Rupp’s closing speed: “I think everything is going to be good for Galen as we go toward the Olympics. He has a good corps of people behind him, a great coach in Alberto Salazar. I think what we’re going to see from Galen is that he belongs at the top.”
Rupp’s competition in London will include his training partner, Mo Farrah of Britain, who at last year’s world championships was first in the 5,000 and second in the 10,000 as Rupp went 9th and 7th.
“God, I’m really lucky to train with Mo,” Rupp said. “I wouldn’t be at the level I’m at today, I really believe, if he hadn’t come out to Oregon. He’s been like a big brother to me, mentoring me, telling me things that will help in races. Even in practice he does a great job of that.
“He’s the most humble, quality human being there is. When we get on the track, it’s business and we know that we’re trying to beat each other. Neither of us takes it personally. Even in training, that’s what it’s like. We’re both going to be gunning for medals and we know that afterward we’ll still be the best of friends no matter what happens.”
Rupp laughed in noting there will be a big difference in the size and the rooting interest at the London Olympic Stadium compared to Hayward Field: “They’ll be cheering for him instead of me.”