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There’s no question that how Rupp fares in Boston will affect public perception of him. His very first marathon, the Olympic Trials in Los Angeles in February 2016, provided a visible turning point in the race where the baton seemed to be passed—or rather, snatched—from Keflezighi to Rupp. It was mile 23 on a dangerously hot day, and the two were all alone in front, Olympic qualification safely assured for each. Keflezighi was even a bit annoyed that Rupp, who has been conditioned to running in a tight pack around a track, was hanging so closely on Keflezighi’s shoulder despite having the whole road to run on. But in an instant, Rupp accelerated away, as if he downshifted and floored it, knocking out a 4:47 mile and going on to win by 68 seconds.
It also felt like a turning point in the running community’s perception of him. The editors of LetsRun, the sport’s foremost website for running chatter, breathlessly wrote following the race that “America’s next great marathoner has arrived” and that Rupp “utterly destroyed” the field. On the site’s popular message boards, ordinarily full of ridicule, contempt and slanderous descriptions of Rupp that are unprintable here, commenters largely wished him well in the Olympic marathon and vowed to root for him. It was a complete reversal in tone. Will a strong result in Boston make people similarly forget the latest media coverage, for better or for worse? The coach-protégé storylines would almost write themselves.