Haile Gebrselassie Tries to Make His Final Olympics, Can Galen Rupp Finally Beat Bernard Lagat?

By LetsRun.com
February 24, 2012

If you don't have plans Saturday night make a date with your computer as 6000m miles apart starting at 7:10 pm eastern there will be some great distance running action.

First up in Tokyo at 7:10 pm eastern is 38 year old Haile Gebrselassie racing the Tokyo Marathon which likely is his last chance to qualify for his final Olympics in London. Then, once that race is over less than an hour later, Bernard Lagat and Galen Rupp will square off for round 3 at 3000m at the US Indoor Championships.

Geb vs Father Time in Tokyo
It is hard to imagine professional running without Haile Gebrselassie. Way before LetsRun.com or even the commercial internet even existed, Gebreslassie won his first World 10,000m title 19 years ago in 1993. He has been at the top of the sport ever since.

Father time discriminates against no one. He just strikes us all at different times. Has he already called Haile Gebrselassie's name and we just haven't realized it?

Looking at Haile G's marathon record below since the last Olympics, you see that the Great One has not finished a marathon in two years. He has not run sub 2:06 in three years.

Haile Gebrselassie's Marathon Record Since the Last Olympics
September 2011 Berlin DNF
February 2011 Tokyo DNS
November 2010 New York DNF
January 2010 Dubai 1st Place 2:06:09
September 2009 Berlin 1st Place 2:06:08
January 2009 Dubai 1st Place 2:05:29
September 2008 Berlin World Record 2:03:59
August 2008 Olympic 10,000m 6th place 27:06, (1st Place 27:01)

Despite Geb's lack of recent success in the marathon, many of us assumed that if he still had a 2:06 in him that that type of run and his pedigree would be good enough to put him on the Ethiopian Olympic team.

That may no longer be the case. The Ethiopians are not as deep as the Kenyans in the marathon. However, the Ethiopians' fortunes in the marathon are changing for the better and that will make it much harder for Geb to make the Olympic team.

In addition to Tsegaye Kebede (Olympic and World bronze, he was the top marathoner in the World in early 2009), and Gebre Gebrmemariam (2010 NYC Champ, 2:04:53 in Boston last year), Ethiopia has Feyisa Lilesa who has run 2:05:23 and got a world bronze. With Geb that would make 4 stars going for 3 Olympic spots. Then at last month's Dubai Marathon, things got even more difficult for Geb. Three Ethiopians ran sub 2:05 and 7 Sub 2:06.

Geb and His Tokyo Competitors

If Geb Wins in Tokyo Will it Put Him on the Olympic Team?
Thus, Geb needs a very good performance in Tokyo to be named to the Olympic Marathon team. How good? We're not sure.

However, Geb's history in the marathon is that outside of the world's premier marathon, London, every marathon he has run and finished he has won. Generally speaking, he wins or drops out. So if he wins in Tokyo will that be good enough to put him on the Ethiopian Olympic team? Likely.

The course record in Tokyo is 2:07:23. Time doesn't mean everything in the marathon, but Geb has a few 2:06 guys in the field to ensure the pace is honest if he wins. According to the IAAF preview, the pace maker in Tokyo will be running 3:00 a kilometer which is 2:06:33 pace.

The guy with the second best pr in the field is Jafred Kipchumba of Kenya who ran 2:05:49 in Eindhoven, Germany last fall. Kipchumba is a pure marathoner. To show how big an impact the money in the marathon is having on Kenyan distance running and pushing runners away from the track, the all-athletics.com database only shows Kipchumba having run marathons. No 10ks, no half-marathons, only marathons. Amazing. We've never seen a profile like his (it's likely he ran a 10k in Kenya that isn't in the database but the database is pretty complete).

Gilbert Kirwa has run 2:06 twice. He struggled last year, but should be able to stay with the pace and keep it honest. Sally Kipyego's brother, Michael, ran 2:06:48 in finishing third to Kipchumba in Eindhoven. It was a big improvement, but once again he's another body to help keep the pace honest.

Hailu Mekonnen won in Tokyo last year in 2:07:35 and with Kipchumba may be Geb's biggest challenger. Course record holder Viktor Rothlin is in the field. Steven Kiprotich of Uganda is only 22 and ran 2:07 in his debut and was 9th at the recent Worlds. The Japanese hopes are led by amateur runner and LetsRun.com cult hero Yuki Kawauchi who first turned heads with his 2:08:38 here last year (more on him here and here)

There is a strong enough field that if Gebrselassie is to win he'll likely have to set a course record which would bolster his chances for London.

Will he do it? We hate to say this because we readily admit we'll be rooting for Geb to pull it off, but we don't think so. We hope he proves us wrong. Geb's going away party should be on the Olympic stage in London.

The good news is Gebrselassie is a runner for life. As he told the IAAF, "I eat, sleep and run. It is part of my life.  I will someday stop competing, but I will not stop running."

Last year

Lagat vs Rupp vs Father Time
In 11 tries, Galen Rupp has never beaten Bernard Lagat.

Considering their twelve year age difference, it seems likely if they keep racing long enough at some point Rupp will beat Lagat. Each year Rupp keeps improving and Lagat keeps getting a year older. Two weeks ago they traded American records with Rupp impressively running solo the second half of the race to get the American 2 mile record, while Lagat took down Rupp's 5000m record.

This is the third straight year Rupp and Lagat have raced at 3000m in Albuquerque. Last year after Rupp's 10,000m record attempt in New Zealand was cancelled because of the Christchurch Earthquake, Rupp flew half-way around the globe to race Lagat. Some wondered if it was the year Rupp would beat Lagat, but Lagat absolutely destroyed Rupp the final lap.

Two years ago, Rupp, Chris Solinsky and Lagat all raced. Lagat came out comfortably on top the final lap, with Rupp second, and Solinsky third. They would race three weeks later at the World Indoor Champs and Lagat absolutely crushed Rupp and the entire field to win the World title in one of his most impressive races ever. 3000m may be the best event for Lagat.

Could Rupp beat Lagat in New Mexico? Yes. Should we expect it to happen? No. Anything can happen in a race but if Rupp beats Lagat it likely means a) Rupp is a serious gold medal contender or b) Father Time is catching up to Lagat. We've yet to see any indication of a) or b) so we'll stick with the safe bet and say Lagat wins again.

Galen' coach, Alberto Salazar even seems to have a similar opinion as us, "To be honest, it hasn't been that close in the past when they've raced. Lagat has handled him pretty easily. But every year Galen has gotten better. He's definitely not going into this conceding victory to Lagat. Galen is starting to close the gap. At some point he may pull even. Maybe it will be this year. We'll see."

Olympian Lopez Lomong is also in the 3000m on Saturday. In the other distance action on Satuday Jenny Simpson starts her 3000m/1500 double attempt and faces USATF XC Champ Sara Hall. There also is the opening of the 800. On Sunday is the 1500m and Matt Centrowitz versus Leo Manzano.

Rupp vs Lagat on the Boards:
This Year:
"Galen Rupp won't concede anything when he takes on Bernard Lagat"
Last Year:  
"What Can Rupp Possibly Do (if anything) To Beat Lagat over 3k??"  This poster may have had the best analysis, "Wait a couple of years."

Round 3 Rupp vs Lagat:
Round 2: 2011 LRC Recap Lagat Over Rupp
Round 1: 2010 LRC Recap Lagat Over Rupp (and Solinsky)
Plus 2010 Lagat Wins World Indoors Over Rupp


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