Galen Rupp

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

Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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Brigid Kosgei shatters marathon world record in Chicago

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Kenyan Brigid Kosgei shattered a 16-year-old world record in the women’s marathon by 81 seconds, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:14:04 on Sunday.

Brit Paula Radcliffe had held the record of 2:15:25 set at the 2003 London Marathon. Kenyan Mary Keitany holds the female-only record of 2:17:01 from the 2017 London Marathon. Both Kosgei and Radcliffe, the only women to break 2:17, ran with men in their record races.

Radcliffe’s record was the longest-standing for the men’s or women’s marathon of the last 50 years.

Kosgei did it one day after Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a sub-two-hour marathon in a non-record-eligible event in Vienna. She won by a gaping 6 minutes, 47 seconds over Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh.

Kosgei, who won Chicago in 2018 and the London Marathon in April, came in highly favored. The 25-year-old tuned up with the fastest half-marathon ever by a woman (by 23 seconds) on Sept. 8 on a non-record-eligible course.

“2:10 is possible for a lady,” Kosgei said after Sunday’s record.

Jordan Hasay, the top U.S. woman in the field, stopped after feeling a sharp hamstring strain after two miles. Hasay, who was coached by Alberto Salazar before his ban in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency case, is one of several women in contention for the three Olympic spots at the Feb. 29 trials in Atlanta.

Kenyan Lawrence Cherono won the men’s race by one second over Ethiopian Dejene Debela in 2:05:45.

The U.S.’ top marathoner, Galen Rupp, dropped out around mile 23 after straining a calf around the sixth mile. Rupp, who was also coached by Salazar, was racing for the first time since the 2018 Chicago Marathon and Achilles surgery.

Mo Farah, the defending champion and four-time Olympic track gold medalist, finished eighth in 2:09:58. He also dropped from the leaders before the halfway point.

American Daniel Romanchuk and Swiss Manuela Schar won the wheelchair races.

Romanchuk, 21, repeated as champion. He has also won Boston London and New York City in the last year. Schar distanced decorated American Tatyana McFadden by 4:14, though McFadden did qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics with her runner-up finish (as did Romanchuk).

The fall major marathon season concludes with the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, featuring defending champions Mary Keitany and Lelisa Desisa and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.

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MORE: Chicago Marathon results