The 2012 United States Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon are just around the corner. For some athletes, simply going to the Trials is a dream come true. Others will not be satisfied unless they qualify for the Olympic Games in London. An Olympic medal is the primary goal for the most elite athletes representing the stars and stripes. Then there are those who face pressure that goes beyond medals and strong performances. The weight of a nation’s hopes rests on their shoulders, or perhaps, on their stride. One such athlete is Galen Rupp. For Rupp, there is little margin for error. He bears the responsibility of leading the resurgence of American distance running on the world stage.
U.S. Running History
The United States has been virtually irrelevant in world class distance races for decades. For the past two decades, the sport has been dominated by African nations. Ethiopia and Kenya have been especially successful in producing the greatest distance runners on the planet. Prior to Africa’s emergence, European runners set the standard for longer races. America, meanwhile, has remained little more than a footnote through the years. History has seen some excellent U.S. distance runners, but those athletes have been few and far between. Whether it’s a result of inferior training, a lack of natural ability, or a combination of both is up for debate. Whatever the cause, the United States has been unable to consistently compete at the world level.
The Path to Greatness
Galen Rupp was born in Portland, Oregon in 1986. In high school, he joined the track and cross country teams. It didn’t take long for people to begin to notice Rupp’s ability. He was no ordinary distance runner. By the time he graduated, Rupp held national high school track records at 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters. Rupp elected to stay close to home for college, a decision that made sense considering he grew up in Oregon, the traditional distance running capitol of the U.S. The University of Oregon has a storied distance running program. American running legend Steve Prefontaine is among the talented athletes the team has featured over the years, a team that was once coached by running pioneer and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman. At Oregon, Rupp quickly burst onto the scene as one of the premier distance runners in the country.
A Promising Career
Few American runners have created the kind of optimism that Rupp has. Fans, coaches, and other athletes see limitless potential in the young Oregonian. That’s why he carries the torch representing America’s future in distance running. It may be unfair to expect so much of one runner, but Rupp has given plenty of reason to believe in his ability. Not many people can say they redshirted a year of college athletics to focus on competing in the Olympics. Rupp can. Following a second place finish in the 10,000 meters at the U.S. Trials, Rupp crossed the line 13th in 27:36.99 at his Olympic debut in Beijing. Rupp’s college resume speaks for itself. He won five individual NCAA championships and earned fourteen All-American honors. In 2011, Rupp took his career to a new level with an American record of 26:48 for 10,000 meters.
Is it legit to think that Rupp will lead an American distance running revolution? Time will tell, but it seems more likely that if Rupp starts collecting Olympic medals, it will be an isolated success story rather than the start of a pattern in U.S. distance running. Rupp, who plans to run the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races in London, has the ability to reach greater heights than other Americans who have received significant hype in recent years, such as Alan Webb and Dathan Ritzenhein. The competition at the 2012 Games will be superb. Rupp’s best chance at a medal will probably be in the 10,000, in a field that will likely include two-time defending gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia. Another favorite also happens to be Rupp’s training partner. Mo Farah will represent Great Britain at the Olympics, but trains with Rupp in Oregon under the coaching of Alberto Salazar.
Rupp’s talent is a rarity in the United States. He will remain under the spotlight for that very reason, as the U.S. hopes for a better future in distance running. The problem is, there’s no evidence to suggest that America will be able to regularly develop athletes who can run at the same level as Rupp anytime soon. With improved training methods, the United States could become more competitive on the world scene eventually, but it won’t happen overnight. Still, Rupp has a chance to become the first American man to win an Olympic medal in the 5,000 or 10,000 meters since 1964, when the U.S. took gold in both events along with one bronze. If he is able to end a nearly fifty year medal drought, America should be truly proud. Realistically, Galen Rupp can’t be expected to catapult U.S. distance running to the top of the world. What he can do though, is give it a bump in the right direction.
NBC Universal Media, “Galen Rupp bio”, NBC Olympics
Tim Layden, “A Bond Born At Speed”, Sports Illustrated
Andy Bull, “London 2012: Kenenisa Bekele historic 10,000m Olympic treble”, The Guardian