Galen Rupp likes to tell the story of the first time the Olympics came into his view, as a sophomore at Portland’s Central Catholic High School in 2001 or 2002.
He remembers his coach, three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar, sitting him down after his season and laying out his career.
“We’re gonna take a really long-term approach; we’re not gonna give you too much too early,” Rupp said Salazar told him. “You know, physically, you probably are — we hope you make the Olympics in 2008, but physically you’re gonna be ready to go in ’12 and most likely ’16. That’s going to be your best shot to win.”
Rupp proved Salazar right by making the 2008 Olympic team at age 22 and then, in 2012, becoming the first U.S. man to earn an Olympic 10,000m medal in 48 years, a silver behind training partner and FIFA video-game rival Mo Farah.
And now, in what could be Rupp’s last Olympics with his best shot to win gold, he could take on a new challenge. The marathon.
Rupp decided to race a half marathon for the first time since 2011 in Portland on Sunday and easily prevailed ahead of costumed runners (a man dressed as an elf, another in the bunny suit from “A Christmas Story,” among others).
He clocked 1:01:20, comfortably under the 1:05:00 needed to qualify for the Olympic marathon trials Feb. 13 in Los Angeles. Whether Rupp toes the line of a 26.2-mile race for the first time there is still in question.
“Galen wants to keep all his options open,” Salazar said, according to Runner’s World. “No commitments one way or the other.”
Rupp previously signed up for the 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon trials — also, reportedly, because he wanted to keep his options open — with a qualifying time from the March 2011 New York half marathon (1:00:30).
But Rupp withdrew one week before the Jan. 14, 2012, marathon trials.
Many have wondered when Rupp, now 29, would make his marathon debut. And how he would fare.
He’s long been best at the 10,000m, making the Beijing 2008 team in the second-longest race on the Olympic program, breaking the American record in 2011 (and again in 2014) and taking that 2012 Olympic silver medal.
Rupp’s 1:01:20 on Sunday ranks second among U.S. men for 2015, behind U.S. champion Diego Estrada, who is expected to make his 26.2-mile debut at the marathon trials.
The Olympic marathon trials favorite is Meb Keflezighi, a 40-year-old who owns an Olympic silver medal and Boston and New York marathon victories. The other top contender, three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, has dealt with a hip injury this fall and didn’t contest a relay race with other men’s and women’s marathon hopefuls Sunday.
The top three at the trials will make the Rio Olympic team.
Rupp could race Feb. 13, finish top three, and later withdraw from the Olympic marathon team.
He could also make the Olympic team in the 10,000m at the track trials in July and race both distances in Rio, eight days apart.
“It’s a doable double at the Olympics,” Rupp said four years ago of the London Games, according to the Oregonian. “It would be hard, but they’re a week apart.”
Rupp said last month that he might take more risks in training in an Olympic year.
“We always have two peaks a year, so we’ll have one in the winter,” he said. “We always try to make sure that they’re calculated [risks] because it’s easy to get carried away, trying to do so much more just because it’s Olympics, but I think that’s where you really run into problems with getting hurt because you try to overdo it too much.”
Rupp’s goal is Olympic gold, and his best shot to do so may still be in the 10,000m.
Rupp followed the Olympic 10,000m silver by finishing fourth at the 2013 World Championships and fifth at this past summer’s Worlds. Farah won all of those races and appears an overwhelming favorite to repeat in Rio.
“I was really disappointed to finish fifth,” Rupp said last month of his 27:08.91 time in Beijing on Aug. 22. “If that had been six years ago, I would’ve broken the American record in 90-degree heat, basically. So I ran really, really solidly, I thought, but sometimes you can’t control what place you get.”
He’s focused offseason training on paying more attention to his diet, yoga and upper-body stretches.
“Say I had gotten second or third, gotten my medal in Beijing, I would’ve maybe been a little disappointed, but we would’ve been, hey, we’re still right there,” Rupp said. “Maybe we wouldn’t have found all those other things [to work on].”