USA Men's 3k: A Marathoner, A 41-Year-Old, And A Hard-Kicking Favorite

We’ve got a 41-year-old reigning silver medalist, a guy who beat Mo Farah this year, the 2015 NCAA 3k champion, the U.S. record holder in the steeple, and oh yeah, the fastest 3k runner in American history just 27 days removed from a marathon. 

And I’m not picking one of those guys to win. Yeah, this here is the race you’ll still be talking about Monday morning at the office water cooler. 

The U.S. men’s 3k will be the premiere race of this action-packed weekend, complete with an incredible cast of characters fighting to punch their tickets to next week’s World Championships. Just two men will earn that right.

In a championship bout with this much depth, expect to see plenty of jogging followed closely by a lightning quick finish, which should provide us with a roller derby-like last few laps that makes indoor so much fun. Below, I’ve laid out the contenders, starting with the perplexing case of a man who seems determined to run any and all distances in 2016. 

Can Galen Rupp really make this team?

Under normal circumstances, the answer to that question is easily yes. The 29-year-old set the 2-mile American record just two years ago, and he finished a mere .45 seconds away from a medal in the 3k at the last World Indoor Championships. Just last summer, Rupp was fifth and the top American in the World Champs 5k. A fresh Rupp would be an incredibly reliable pick to finish top-2 here, seeing that he has made almost every single Olympic/World Championship team (indoor and outdoor) that he has tried for in his career. He’s 14 for 15. 

But of course, Rupp is going for the seemingly impossible on Friday: he’s coming back less than a month after a marathon— a damn good one at that— and hoping that he can find his track speed right where he left it despite having trained for an entirely different event. That factor, combined with a general understanding that the marathon is a body wrecker that takes a longer period than this to bounce back from, suggests that we won’t find Rupp near his best Friday in Portland.

RELATED: Galen Rupp Dominates Trials In Marathon Debut  

It is certainly important to note that Coach Salazar told that “there have been ups and downs” in Rupp’s marathon recovery/3k buildup, and that “it’s been a quick turnaround.” You can take that one of two ways: an admission that Rupp hasn’t come back as fast from the marathon as expected, or that it's just an acknowledgement that it’s only been 27 days since a marathon. Maybe the ups and downs were anticipated. 

But truthfully, we have no idea how he’ll respond in this quick turnaround. Since this was the plan all along, I imagine that track work was not entirely neglected in his build up to 26.2, and let’s be honest, Rupp’s performance four weeks ago looked very controlled. It was still 26 miles of pounding no matter how you spin it, but we can certainly confirm that Rupp is in excellent shape. Whether that fitness can carry him through 53-54 seconds in the last 400m—speed he’ll have to have to make the team— is the big question mark.

Ryan Hill, The Favorite

The 25-year-old stole one from Hassan Mead two weeks ago at Millrose, just nipping him at the line with a 26.3 second last circuit. Hill’s monster close there was really no surprise since he’s accrued a number of highlight reel finishes recently, with his hard-kicking ways making him the favorite tomorrow in Portland.

Hill after his victory at Millrose: World Indoors is a benchmark in Olympic year:

Hill took down a swath of his top competition for tomorrow last month in NYC, with just Rupp, Bernard Lagat, and Garrett Heath the only contenders not in attendance. Noting Rupp’s situation, and that Hill beat all three of those guys last year to win the USA 5k title, I would be shocked if the Bowerman star was left off this team.

Don’t sleep on Hassan Mead

While Hill won the trophy at Millrose, it was Hassan Mead who really made that race in the last few laps as he aggressively shot to the lead with 500m to go. Were it not for Hill unleashing his jet pack in the last 50m, the 26-year-old would have picked up the biggest victory of his pro career at the Armory. 

The bigger point, though, was that Mead came within a nose of beating Hill (.03 seconds), and thus should really like his chances tomorrow in Portland. They say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but Mead is coming off narrow defeats at the hands of Hill and Matt Centrowitz before that, two near-scalps from a couple of the best closers in the country. That proves he’s serious top-2 material.

Mead nearly caught Centro at the line in an early February 3k:

Bernard Lagat’s Indoor Farewell Tour

If it weren’t for an untimely sickness last summer that derailed his chances to make it a perfect 13 for 13 in Team USA squads, we might be talking about 41-year-old Bernard Lagat as the favorite here. After all, Kip was the second-best 3k runner in the world as recently as two years ago, and his 7:37 in 2015 was tops among all Americans indoors last year.

RELATED: Bernard Lagat says 2016 will be his last on the track

But tomorrow will be Lagat’s season debut, however, so we have no idea if he’ll be in top form. Plus, the guy’s 41. His speed wasn’t rapidly deteriorating last season— he ran 3:54— but it is telling to me that Lagat has already announced 2016 to be his last on the track. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.   

Let’s not forget, though, that the ageless wonder has never lost to anyone in this field in an indoor 3,000m.

Hey, what about everyone else?

Evan Jager, Eric Jenkins, and Garrett Heath are all threats here. 

Despite taking losses at Millrose to three of the men he’ll face tomorrow, Jager’s fourth place three weeks ago was solid since an injury compromised his training earlier in the winter.

Also, 3:32 speed helps:

Jenkins couldn’t hang with Hill and Mead at the end in NYC, but he did set more than a two-second PR of 7:39.43 to grab third. Taking down his former Oregon teammate Edward Cheserek at Millrose, who beat him all but once in college, was an excellent barometer for the first year pro. 

Heath officially became Edinburgh royalty when he took down Mo Farah in January, and he’s been known to close like a freight train. He just missed last year’s World Championship 5k team by an excruciating .07 seconds, nearly catching Rupp at the line. The 30-year-old has a 7:37 PR.

PREDICTION: Hill is the easy pick for the win, as he’s the reigning US 5k champ and he won the showdown at Millrose. It’s picking who gets second where things get tough. A safe pick would be Mead, and Rupp is tempting, but I’m taking the old man. Rolling your eyes?

Listen to Kip tell us last summer that he’s still not done:

Here’s my top-5

1. Ryan Hill

2. Bernard Lagat

3. Hassan Mead

4. Evan Jager

5. Galen Rupp

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