Galen Rupp Picks NAU's Mike Smith As His New Coach

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In the wake of Alberto Salazar’s anti-doping ban, the former Nike Oregon Project head coach’s star pupil, Galen Rupp, was in need of a new coach. According to Runner’s World, the top marathoner has found his man in Mike Smith, the head coach at Northern Arizona University.

It’s a surprising union for both men, as Smith has no known association with Nike, Rupp’s sponsor for his entire professional career, while the 33-year-old Rupp has only ever been coached by Salazar dating back to high school. According to Runner’s World, Smith was surprised when Rupp reached out to him about working together in the fall and took awhile to consider the offer.

For Rupp, choosing a college coach is also a significant departure from Salazar, who was wholly focused on the professional group and who had a uniquely close relationship with the two-time Olympic medalist. Rupp has said in the past that he considers Salazar like a father figure.

Salazar was banned from coaching by USADA for four years on Sep. 30 for anti-doping violations. His appeal is expected to be heard in March. In October, Nike shut down the Oregon Project.

Smith is based in Flagstaff, Arizona, while Rupp lives in Portland, Oregon, so it is not yet known if the pair will work together remotely or if Rupp will begin training in Flagstaff. (Editor's Note: it has since been reported that Rupp will remain in Portland.)

While the former Nike Oregon Project assistant under Salazar, Pete Julian, remains in Portland and is coaching many of the same athletes he did while under the NOP umbrella, Rupp has elected to go a different route as he prepares to defend his U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials title on Feb. 29 in Atlanta.

Rupp dropped out in the latter miles of the 2019 Chicago Marathon in October, his first race back in a year after undergoing surgery for Haglund’s deformity in his foot. He has not raced since.

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The men’s race at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials is top-heavy on paper. Defending champion Galen Rupp exists in a league of his own with an Olympic bronze medal from Rio and a 2:06 personal best buoying his position. Injury struggles and Alberto Salazar’s ban have made a potential victory in Atlanta much less certain, but Rupp seems to have steadied the ship after tuning up with a 61-minute half earlier this month. If he makes it through 26.2 miles on Saturday, there’s a strong chance he will break the tape.

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