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Galen Rupp ponders American record, finally beating Mo Farah at Chicago Marathon

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Galen Rupp believes the American record is in play at Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, where he could beat an upright Mo Farah for the first time.

“This is probably the best situation I’ve ever been in to run fast,” Rupp said Monday, six days before the 26.2-mile race (8 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold for subscribers).

Rupp leans on the confidence from his last marathon, when he won in Prague in 2:06:07 on May 6, shattering his personal best of 2:09:20 from winning the 2017 Chicago Marathon.

Prague came three weeks after Rupp dropped out of the Boston Marathon before the 20th mile due to the hypothermia-inducing weather. Rupp had said before Boston that his pre-race training was “by far” his best of his first five marathons.

“It wasn’t the most ideal circumstances,” Rupp said of Prague. “In that race it was more about winning and really surging in the second half. It wasn’t necessarily the best way to run a fast time, and I still ran pretty quick there. … It left me thinking there’s a lot more room still where I have that I can improve.”

Every marathon that Rupp has finished came in a personal-best time: 2:11:13 (Olympic Trials), 2:10:05 (Olympics), 2:09:58 (Boston 2017), 2:09:20 (Chicago 2017), 2:06:07 (Prague 2018).

Rupp is now the third-fastest American marathoner in history. Khalid Khannouchi‘s American record — 2:05:38 — is not that far off. Ryan Hall ran 2:04:58 in Boston, but the course is not record-eligible.

The situation Rupp mentioned is boosted by a stronger Chicago field than last year (adding the four-time Olympic track champion Farah, plus 2017 Boston and 2017 World champion Geoffrey Kirui and three others who have broken 2:05).

And the reintroduction of pacers. From 2011-14, the Chicago Marathon winning time was faster than Khannouchi’s American record. Race organizers ditched pacers from 2015-17, during which Rupp’s 2:09:20 was the fastest time.

“I’ve got no excuses,” said Rupp, fully recovered from an ankle/Achilles problem that forced him to withdraw before the Sept. 16 Copenhagen Half Marathon. Rupp said training the last two weeks of September was similar to if not faster than before this race a year ago and before Prague.

One stat working against Rupp: He has never won a race that’s included Farah, his former training partner and FIFA video game rival. En route to 10 total Olympic and world championships, the Brit Farah was 21-1 versus Rupp, but never in a marathon, according to Tilastopaja.org.

“He dominated me on the track,” Rupp mentions without being told of their head-to-head record. “I think I might have beaten him once, and that’s because he got tripped.”

Rupp’s right. He finished third and Farah fourth in an indoor mile in 2012 after Farah tripped and fell 21 seconds after the gun.

But Rupp has the experience edge in the marathon. Farah has raced 26.2 miles just twice (2014 and 2018 London Marathons, though he was an impressive third in London in 2:06:21 on April 22, at the time better than Rupp’s PR).

“He’s one of the best track runners of all time,” said Rupp, adding that he hasn’t seen Farah in person since Farah announced a split from their coach, Alberto Salazar, and moved from Oregon back to Britain last year. “I’m certainly more suited for the longer distances.”

Rupp watched the last 30 minutes of Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge‘s world record 2:01:39 in Berlin on Sept. 16. Not as it happened, but he didn’t know the result beforehand, either. Rupp called Kipchoge, a fellow Nike runner, “a good friend” and the best person to represent the marathon.

Rupp hasn’t faced Kipchoge since they shared the 2016 Olympic podium (Kipchoge gold, Rupp bronze).

But beating Kirui, arguably the most impressive non-Kipchoge marathoner of 2017, and Farah, the greatest track runner of the last decade, would move Rupp closer to the top of the non-Kipchoge division of the marathon.

“For you to make the next step in your development, especially what you want to do in 2020, you’ve got to start really running against great competition,” Rupp said Salazar told him before flying to Chicago. “[Salazar] looks back on what he did [a New York City Marathon three-peat and a PR of 2:08:13]. He’s shown me before when he’s run his best times in the marathon. He’s like, everything I’ve done has been so superior to that.”

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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