Dick Patrick is one of the most respected and prolific writers in our sport. For nearly two decades, we could rely on Dick for a wonderful column in USA Today. Since 1990, Dick has written for American Track & Field.
All things change. Dick Patrick has continued to write for American Track & Field, and we are grateful that Dick will be writing a column for Runblogrun, from June 22 to July 2. This is his first column for Runblogrun.
We hope that you enjoy it!
Photo by PhotoRun.net
By Dick Patrick
EUGENE, Oregon –The plan was hatched over runs, meals and talks the last few weeks. Training partners Galen Rupp and Dathan Ritzenhein were part of a race within the race in the 10,000 final Friday at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.
Rupp, the U.S. recordholder in the event and the fastest non-African ever, was the favorite to win the race and considered a near lock to make the team with a top-three finish. His concern was conserving energy for two rounds of the 5,000 next week.
Photo by PhtoRun.net
His fellow Portland resident and Alberto Salazar coached product, Ritzenhein, had a different problem. He had missed making the marathon team in January by eight seconds and was not one of the eight runners with the Olympic A qualifying standard in Friday’s 24-man field. So Ritzenhein’s challenge was to finish in the top three and break 27:45 in order to gain a berth on the U.S. team for the London Olympics in August.
The plan called for Rupp, 26, and Ritzenhein, 30, to trade the lead early and come through the halfway point in 13:55. “Then it was every man for himself,” Rupp said.
They hit the midway point in 13:56, nearly on target and just about when a downpour of rain began to abate. When the race and rain were finished, Rupp was the winner in 27:25.33, Matt Tegenkamp was second (27:33.94) and Ritzenhein was third (27:36.09). Not only was it an Oregon and Nike sweep – Tegenkamp trains with Jerry Schumacher’s group in Portland – the trio all broke Meb Keflizighi’s Trials record of 27:36.49, set in 2004.
Photo by PhotoRun.net
Salazar, a University of Oregon running legend turned coach, found a win-win solution out of what could have been a conflict. ‘Ritz’ couldn’t afford a dawdling early pace. Yet a sit-and-kick race might favor Rupp, who would be conserving energy for next week with a slow start.
“Dathan didn’t want Galen to do anything to jeopardize his chances for the 5K team,” Salazar said. “Galen didn’t want to feel guilty later about not doing something to help Dathan. In the end my reasoning was that Dathan was going to run 27:45 no matter what. I told Galen, ‘It’s a nice, even pace that’s better for you.'”
That way the pack would get strung out and eliminate congestion, greatly reducing any chances of Rupp being tripped or bounced around in traffic. Salazar loved the way the pair executed the plan.
“It’s something I’ll owe (Rupp) big time,” Ritzenhein said. “He said it was in both our interests, but it was definitely in my interest more than his so I’ll owe him big time for this. This wasn’t just the plan: He even took (the lead) over again that little lap after 5k. I really needed that.
“Spending the time in front was hard for me, knowing the pressure of the time and seeing a group of guys near us. That helped me get just enough of a reprieve to break open the race the last two miles.”
Rupp, Ritzenhein and Tegenkamp broke away from the rest of the field when Rupp took them through a 63.79-second lap on the 17th of 25 circuits at Hayward Field, the 20,936 fans roaring approval. Rupp put the race away with a 62.34, the fastest split of the race, on the 23rd lap. He had enough energy to wave to the fans on the final straight.
“He’s strong. He looked like he wasn’t even breathing hard,” said eighth-place Luke Puskedra (27:56.62), a former Oregon teammate of Rupp.
Said Tegenkamp: “Utmost respect to those two up front. Dathan with the pressure, knowing he had to get the standard and going after it from the gun.”
Both Tegenkamp and Ritzenhein have had difficulties the previous couple of years with injuries, interrupted training and inconsistent results. Ritzenhein’s career was in jeopardy a year ago after Achilles surgery and subsequent infections.
“The marathon in Janaury was heartbreaking for me,” Ritzenhein said of missing the team by one place. “That fourth place finish makes this so much better. This was a tough road to make this third Olympic team. This is the best one.”
Rupp isn’t done at these Trials. He’ll also be a favorite in the 5,000, with trials Monday and the final Thursday, where his challengers include Bernard Lagat, a former world champion at the distance.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Rupp said. “I had to focus on this first. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself. Today I was only worried about the 10K and getting the job done. The (5k) is really going to be tough. It’s just about rest and recovery now, getting myself ready for the prelim in a couple days.”
He’ll have a pleasant memory during massages and ice baths. “It worked great,” he said of the plan. “I’m really glad (Ritzenhein) was able to make it and that I’m going to have my teammate, training partner and friend with me in London training for the 10K.”