Galen Rupp wins Olympic Marathon Trials, joined by oldest U.S. Olympic runner ever

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ATLANTA — As Galen Rupp covered the final miles of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with an insurmountable lead, he stayed in routine. He prayed.

“Especially when things start to hurt at the end,” the Catholic runner said. “I certainly was saying a lot of Hail Marys those last couple of miles.”

Rupp extended his exemplary record in Olympic Trials, winning by 42 seconds in 2:09:20 on a hilly course and a windy day. The two-time Olympic medalist repeated as marathon trials champion to make a fourth Olympic team after a challenging year and a half.

Rupp prevailed on a day where all of the other male and female favorites failed to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

He’s joined on the Olympic team by Jacob Riley, who doesn’t have a shoe sponsor, and Abdi Abdirahman, in line to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at 43 and the second to compete in five Olympics.

“He’s a different level runner than us,” Abdirahman said of Rupp, who finished second in his first Olympic Trials final as a University of Oregon senior in 2008. Since then, Rupp won five of his six Olympic Trials finals starts between the track and the marathon.

None of the five women’s pre-race favorites made the Olympic team. Instead, a former Uber driver, a former college star who overcame an eating disorder and a mom made up the podium. More on the women’s stories here.

MORE: Olympic Marathon Trials Results

Rupp, who broke free in the 21st mile, completed a marathon for the first time since October 2018. Since, he underwent Achilles surgery, dropped out of his only 2019 marathon with a calf injury and saw his career-long coach, Alberto Salazar, banned four years in a doping case on Oct. 1.

Salazar is appealing, but for now he can no longer coach Rupp, his student since converting the Oregon native from soccer as a high school freshman. Rupp, who has a clean drug-testing record, was not implicated by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

“The sign of a great teacher is how he passes all his information onto his pupil,” Rupp said when asked about Salazar after crossing the Centennial Olympic Park finish line, before pivoting to credit new coach Mike Smith. “Mike’s done a tremendous job. I’m not trying to take anything away because he’s been a godsend.”

Smith, who coaches at Northern Arizona, helped deliver Portland-based Rupp on less than three months of training. Before December, Rupp had a string of pain for more than a year, since before the Achilles surgery.

“Coming off of that surgery, I had to almost relearn how to run again,” he said. “I took for granted waking up, being able to get out of bed, walk without pain, being able to play with my kids. … I couldn’t do that for a long time.”

Rupp rushed his return to start last October’s Chicago Marathon. He dropped out around mile 23 with a calf injury that forced him to focus on physical therapy the next two months. His wife, Keara, sensed it before the start of the race.

“You looked terrible,” she told him after Chicago. “You were limping. I could tell from the first mile you were in a lot of pain.”

After teaming with Smith and rebuilding his mechanics, Rupp came to Atlanta feeling similar to four years ago. He raced the Rio Olympic Marathon Trials with zero marathon experience.

“It was almost like I was a newbie again to this event,” he said. “Sometimes change can be a really good thing.”

Riley spoke post-race with the thrill of a first-time Olympic qualifier.

“You’re seeing somebody live their happiest moment of their entire life, so it’s pretty special right now,” said Riley, who didn’t race in 2017 or 2018 while dealing with the same Achilles issue as Rupp. He came back for October’s Chicago Marathon, where he was the top American finisher.

Sans shoe sponsor, Riley decided to don the scrutinized Nike Alphaflys, unusually tall shoes with extra foam and a carbon fiber plate said to boost a runner’s efficiency by several percentage points. Other companies since produced their own shoes with similar technology, but they’ve been playing catch-up.

Rupp and Riley both wore Alphaflys on Saturday. Abdirahman, sponsored by Nike like Rupp, said he chose an earlier version, a Vaporfly.

“I would prefer not to think that my presence on the team is due to having a better shoe,” said Riley, noting that the top two women’s finishers were not in Nikes. “I would think it’s my training.”

Abdirahman, born in Somalia and nicknamed the “Black Cactus,” ranked 11th among Americans by best marathon times in 2019. Now he’s set to break Bernard Lagat‘s record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner and become the first U.S. male runner to compete in five Olympics.

“It wasn’t a fluke,” said Abdirahman, who made four straight Olympic teams before missing the Rio marathon trials with a calf injury. “I wanted to do something that had never been done before. People counted me out.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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