Rupp vs The Africans
Galen Rupp ran a pretty good 10,000 meter race to grab the silver medal last Saturday. Heck, maybe a little better than pretty good, especially for a scrawny white guy running in an event that has been dominated by scrawny Africans for the past few decades. In a truly impressive manner Rupp held off the two time defending Olympic champion/world record holder, and, as if to rub salt in Kenenisa's wounds, proceeded to go after his family, mowing down his brother, Tariku, in the final stretch of the race. I don't get easily excited for many races, but that last 400 meters had me jumping on my hotel bed, half dressed in the suit I was supposed to be wearing in a wedding in just 1 hour. I may have even yelled at the television. After last year when Rupp ran 26:48 to become the fastest non-African runner of all time (excluding Farah's British citizenship), the big question became whether or not Rupp could pull off a medal in London.
Now that we've answered question number one, let's move on to the next big question: Will Rudisha break the world record for the 800 meter run in the Olympic final? Yes, but that wasn't really the question I was getting at. So, moving on, how will Rupp stack up against another stellar field in the 5000 meter run?
As far as world rankings go, Rupp is a much better 10k runner than he is a 5k runner. His PB in the 5,000, while nothing to be ashamed of, isn't nearly as intimidating as you might expect from the 2012 10,000 meter Olympic Silver Medalist. He's not even the top American in the race. In a year that has seen 6 different runners go sub 12:50 (albeit in the same race), it's only fair to wonder how Rupp's 12:58 will really stack up; however, 12:58 obviously isn't representative of what he's really capable of running. The race in Eugene that saw Rupp's PB was not at all a fast pace from the get go. Sure, they were easily on pace for the 'A' standard, but a pretty far cry from much else. Given a well rabbited race, Rupp would have a good shot at the American record, if not more. Regardless of how fast he may be able to run, Rupp will have to face another strong contingent of Africans who are plenty capable of besting that American record in the 5000 meter final on Saturday.
The 5k, much like the 10k up until last Saturday, hasn't seen a non-African medalist since Dieter Baumann took home the gold for Germany in Barcelona 20 years ago. On a certain level it's enjoyable to watch any good race, no matter who's in it; however, it's also awesome to see somebody new mixing it up, and mixing it up well with the top Africans. That's not to say that Africa's dominance over the distance races has been snapped, by any means, but it's a start at the very least. The East African nations tend to be put on a pedestal when it comes to distance running, and it was almost just accepted that all the medals would be raked in by those countries. Even your typical layperson is capable of rattling off a few jokes about Kenyans running fast or something along those lines. It would be nice to see Rupp defying the stereotypes for the second race in a row, but keep in mind that the 5k and 10k are two different races and Rupp has his work cut out for him.
I'll probably sound like a broken record here, as the whole time trialing vs. racing theme has come up in numerous articles, but I stand by it. Rupp proved his ability to just grit his teeth and race at the Olympic Trials in the 5k when he came back on Lagat to win the race after Lagat passed him at the start of the final home stretch. I have never seen that happen in all my years (8) in track and field. Most of the time when people get passed in the homestretch they just tie up, make awful facial expressions, and try to scrape up what's left of their dignity in the final meters of the race. That, or fake a pulled hammy. I'm not excluded from this bunch. It was a very impressive run, only to be outdone by his silver medal performance in the 10k on Saturday. Needless to say, he had proved himself to be a contender by this point.
Though he wasn't an automatic qualifier in the heats, he still made it through and that's what counts for now. Admittedly, I didn't think he had much of a chance in the 5k before watching the 10k, but I've switched sides since then. By no means will Rupp be guaranteed a medal, but I doubt that he's shooting for anything less than another spot atop the podium. Let's be honest: Breath-right strips and facemasks aren't the best looking things, but nobody is going to notice when he's got that medal draped around his neck. If he gets another medal I could even see him pulling off the water bottle belt, which should be motivation enough.