2013 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships / Moscow Notebook
A Tale Of Two Seasons
Galen Rupp Deals With The Burdens Of Success
August 10, 2013
Track & field is a fickle lover, the cruelest of all mistresses. One moment an athlete may produce a pinnacle moment, the performance of a lifetime. The following season – or even the next meet – that same athlete may inexplicably register a subpar time, height, or distance.
Our sport is one of ebbs and flows. It is not uncommon for track & field athletes to have spurts of progression sprinkled with intermittent bad patches. Combine these often-unpredictable performance swings with a sport where the margin for error is paper thin and you have an athletic challenge where only the most talented, the most resourceful, and the most resilient will flourish.
Galen Rupp is a case in point. About 17 months ago – in the late winter prior to the 2012 Olympic Games – Rupp faced off against Bernard Lagat in the USATF Indoor Championship 3000 final. Running off a solid pace, Rupp was soundly thrashed by Lagat when the wily veteran unleashed a vicious race-ending 200 meter sprint – a final circuit in 25.42 which left the young distance star struggling in the wake of the elder’s powerful closing move. The following day, Rupp got spanked again in a spirited 1500 final. But Rupp didn’t waver. Galen knew it was all part of Alberto Salazar’s plan of under-distance racing to toughen his protege, to turn him into the late-race sprinter he would need to be to compete for a medal in London. Undaunted, Rupp forged onward – continuing his focused and scientific pre-Olympic build up with his new training partner Mo Farah. Rupp’s steadfast approach paid off. 6 months following his Albuquerque indoor debacle, it wasn’t Lagat who captured Olympic medals. It was Rupp – and his training partner Farah – who mounted the medal stand.
While Rupp’s silver medal in the Olympic 10,000 was the undoubted zenith of his outdoor season last summer, it was not his only highlight. Many sparkling performances dotted Rupp’s scorecard for 2012: PR’s in the 1500 [3:34.75] and the 5000 [12:58.90] and meet-record national championship victories at 5000 and 10,000 meters.
But success in track & field has dual implications: elevated performances promote elevated expectations. Coming off his stellar race in London’s 10,000 final, Galen Rupp has addressed post-Olympic competition with gusto. As 2013 got underway, Rupp picked up where he had left off the previous year. The Olympic medalist posted an early indoor mile mark of 3:50.92 – a PR – and took down the American indoor 3000 record with a 7:30.16 clocking in Stockholm. But some form of post-Olympic letdown – not yet evidenced – had to be expected.
Still, as the 2013 action moved outdoors, Rupp’s American dominance continued. He once again captured the national 10,000 crown – his sixth in a row – with a workmanlike push over the final lap. His loss to Lagat in the national 5000 final could be dismissed as aberrational coming as it did off the ludicrously slow pace which saw the men passing 2500 meters slower than the halfway split the championship women posted in their own tactical 5000 final.
But something intangible seemed to be missing from Rupp’s race day persona. Curiously, Rupp’s 2013 outdoor racing schedule seemed to lack the extent of vigorous under-distance testing that had toughened him in 2012.
Repeatedly this season, Rupp has stated that he was putting all of his eggs into the World Championship 10,000 basket. And he surely did so. The World Championship 10,000 final here in Moscow was a wild and wooly affair. Unlike the often-painful tactical chess matches that have become more commonplace in international championship competition, this final displayed a refreshingly new strategy as the African runners took it out in a solid, crisp pace calculated to take the sting out of Mo Farah’s withering finishing kick. With Paul Tanui and Abera Kuma sharing the workload, the race leadership pulled the field through a steady diet of circuits in the mid-60’s. Through it all Rupp handled the pace with poise – chatting about positioning with his training partner Mo Farah and stationing himself in a commanding runner-up spot right behind Tanui with 6 laps remaining. Amazingly – with 4 laps to go – a lead mob of 14 runners – all bunched within less than 1.5 seconds – was left to fight it out for the medals. As a near capacity crowd roared its approval, the best 10,000 meter runners in the world gave it everything they had.
Over the final 800 – covered in 1:55 – Farah foiled the African strategy by unleashing the winning finishing kick that his recent sub-3:30 1500 suggested he had. Just steps behind the victor [27:21.71], a furious battle ensued for the final two medals. Ibrahim Jeilan [27:22.23] and Tanui [27:22.61] had just enough to keep Rupp [27:24.39] – who eased over the final meters when he knew the medals were gone – off the podium.
Poised – but obviously disappointed – Rupp was reflective about the championship race. “The gold medal was the only thing I was focused on. I thought I did a decent job of putting myself in a good position, but I just came up a little short,” lamented Rupp. On the strategy of the race, the young distance star said, “We just try to prepare ourselves for every situation so nothing comes as a surprise. We were ready if it was fast or slow. We planned to deal with it.” On his status as the Olympic silver medalist, Rupp added, “We never really focus on that stuff. It doesn’t really matter what you did last year. It’s just about moving on to the next one. The rest goes out the window when you hit the starting line.” Will he reflect on this race? “It will be more of a learning thing tonight. You have to have a short memory now. This is behind us. No sense dwelling on it or worrying about it. It’s full steam ahead now for the 5.”
Track & field has a time-tested saying: you’re only as good as your last competition. Sad but true. But the enduring champions are the ones that not only recognize and accept not the truth of that expression, but also are motivated by the reality that another opportunity is approaching. The inspired ones see that glass not as half empty, but as half full. They see that next contest as the opportunity for redemption.
We know Galen Rupp is an athlete with proven resiliency. He isn’t dwelling upon the disappointment of this 10,000 meter final. He is looking forward to his next race – his next dance with the cruel mistress that is track & field.