America’s Next Great Marathoner Arrives as Galen Rupp Dominates Olympic Trials in Debut; Meb Keflezighi, Jared Ward Grab Final Two Spots on Team USA

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By LetsRun.com
February 13, 2016

7:30 p.m. Eastern updated with quick takes and video

LOS ANGELES — America’s next great marathoner has arrived. Galen Rupp, America’s best distance runner of the past decade on the track, utterly destroyed the men’s field at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, dropping the hammer on defending champion Meb Keflezighi during mile 23 to win his debut marathon in 2:11:12. After Tyler Pennel broke the race open with a 4:50 17th mile, Rupp and Keflezighi dropped him three miles later before Rupp cranked out a 4:47 23rd mile to break Keflezighi. The 29-year-old Oregonian cruised from there, winning by 68 seconds as Keflezighi hung on for second to make his fourth Olympic team at age 40. Pennel’s bold move came back to bite him as he crumbled over the race’s final miles, winding up in fifth (2:14:57). Instead, it was Jared Ward, the U.S. champion on these streets a year ago, who claimed the coveted third spot to Rio, running 2:13:00 on the nose. Luke Puskedra was the hard-luck fourth placer, finishing in 2:14:12.

Screenshot 2016-02-13 at 3.23.58 PM

Rupp’s debut marathon was a roaring success

The Race

The temperature (66 degrees) was not quite as hot as expected when the race kicked off at 10:06 a.m. local time but the sun was out and the mercury levels in the thermometer would only rise as the race went on. The heat did not slow the initial pace too much as 20 men came through halfway within two seconds of the lead (1:06:31). Of those top 20, only three men would negative split the race — Rupp, Keflezighi and Ward, the three men who wound up earning Olympic spots.

Though there were a few casualties by the halfway point (Nick Arciniaga, Fernando Cabada), the racing did not really begin until mile 16 when 2014 U.S. marathon champ Tyler Pennel went to the front of the race. His 4:56 16th mile was just the second of the race to that point to have been run under 5:00 and it earned Pennel a three-second lead as the pack began to string out behind him.

It was mile 17 that really did the damage, though. Pennel kept pushing off the front, running it in 4:50, and it was clear the field was taking this move seriously as Keflezighi and Rupp quickly acted to reel him in, joining him at the front at the 17-mile mark. Behind them, the carnage was just beginning; the marathon had begun to claim its victims. Ward was the next-closest man, five seconds back of the leaders; Shadrack Biwott (seven seconds) and Scott Smith (eight seconds) were the only other runners within ten ticks.

Your Olympic Marathon Team

Your Olympic marathon team

Pennel, Rupp and Keflezighi ran together for the next two miles, and by the 19-mile mark, with Ward 15 seconds behind, they could begin to smell Rio in the air. But the exacting pace (4:52/4:54 for mile 18/19) had begun to take its toll on Pennel, and another 4:54 was too rich for his blood and by 20 miles, he was 14 seconds behind the leaders with Ward gaining with every step. When Ward blew by him during mile 21, Pennel was the very picture of a broken man. Though he would gamely fight on to finish fifth, his role in this drama was done.

Indeed, Ward’s lead was big enough at 21 miles (13 seconds over Pennel, 34 over Puskedra in fifth) that he could run the final five miles relatively stress-free. The only battle remaining was a great one: the two Olympic silver medalists, Rupp and Keflezighi, fighting it out for the right to be called national champion.

For over a decade, Keflezighi carried the torch as America’s greatest marathoner, but during the 23rd mile of today’s race, Rupp seized it from him emphatically, cranking out the race’s fastest mile (a 4:47) and putting 17 seconds on Keflezighi. Rupp ground out a couple more sub-5:00 miles to extend his lead to 52 seconds by 25 miles as he drove toward home on Figueroa Street. Finally, as he entered the LA Live area for the final time, he began to relax, slowing almost to a walk as he made the final 180-degree turn by the finish. His celebrations were muted in the final stretch, a couple thumbs-up and waves to the fans, but his emotions poured out as he exploded into a fist pump across the finish line to become the first American runner to earn a spot in Rio.

Keflezighi, miniature American flag in hand, savored the final meters of his journey to the finish in what was surely his final Olympic Trials. Once he was safely across the line, he did Rupp one better, pumping both fists before he was greeted by his wife and daughters for a family hug. Ward pointed with both fingers to the sky as he became an Olympian for the first time, Keflezighi the first to congratulate him.

Full results with splits here, top 10 below. Full analysis and post-race video below results.

1Galen RuppPortland02:11:12
2Meb KeflezighiSan Diego02:12:20
3Jared WardProvo02:13:00
4Luke PuskedraEugene02:14:12
5Tyler PennelBlowing Rock02:14:57
6Matthew LlanoFlagstaff02:15:16
7Shadrack BiwottMammoth Lakes02:15:23
8Patrick SmythSanta Fe02:15:26
9Sean QuigleyLafayette02:15:52
10Nick ArciniagaFlagstaff02:16:25
Meb and Galen Were Together Until the Final 4

Meb and Galen were together until the final four miles

Quick Take #1: Galen Rupp dismantled the field over the final four miles

What Rupp did at the end of today’s race was not exactly a surprise, but it’s one thing to believe someone’s capable of accomplishing something and quite another to actually watch them do it. Rupp ran his debut marathon much like a track race, content to hang in the back of the front pack for the early going and countering moves as they arose before making a hard, decisive move which broke Keflezighi almost immediately. Rupp looked incredibly strong, going 4:47-4:52-4:56 for miles 23-25, producing an impressive negative split (66:31-64:49) on a day when the rising temperatures caused many runners to slow considerably over the second half of the race.

While it’s still a stretch to call him a favorite for a medal in Rio, Rupp’s first crack at the marathon could not have gone better, and his ability to perform in the heat (remember his 27:08 in Beijing last year?) bodes well for this summer’s Olympics.

We were able to catch up with Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar after the race, and Salazar confirmed the plan is to do the 10,000/marathon double. He said that it was a cost-benefit analysis and that in the end they thought his odds were greater in the marathon than the 5000. As for which is the focus, Salazar said “Both.”

In terms of the marathon, Salazar was very bullish on Rupp’s future in the marathon. He shared that during this buildup, Rupp completed a 20-mile tempo at 4:52 pace, his heart-rate never exceeding 150 beats per minute.

*MB: Alberto Salazar confirms that Galen Rupp did the most amazing workout ever – 20 miles at 4:52 pace, HR at 149-50!!

After hearing that, we asked Salazar what did he think Rupp could run on a fast course and he said, “I think he’s a 2:05 guy someday.”

Salazar was slightly disappointed by one aspect of Rupp’s race today though: he didn’t want him to lead until the final 800.

Quick Take 1.5: Which is Rupp’s Best Chance to Medal: 10k or the Marathon?

Bob LarsenMeb’s coach, said Rupp could medal at the 10,000m or in the marathon. Rupp wasn’t sure which one is his best event, but is intending to double in Rio saying, “The first step was obviously was to qualify for this. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, and everything leading up to this was all about the marathon. I think that the double, with the way the schedule is, is a real possibility. I think the 10,000 may still be my better event. I don’t know. This was an interesting buildup because I definitely want to come back and try to run World Indoors in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. We had to do the marathon stuff and I had to do enough speedwork to enable me to be able to come back after this and to continue to sprint. I didn’t want to start from scratch with that. I think that the double in Rio is certainly possible…  I ended up feeling all right. It was hot out there, and the heat caught up to me but I thought I handled it really well and I was pleased, really pleased with my preparation.”

Quick Take #2: Meb Keflezighi becomes the oldest U.S. Olympic marathoner ever, despite suffering from cramping early on and wanting to throw up later.

Father Time may be undefeated, but if they’re playing a seven-game series, Meb Keflezighi just went up 1-0. Keflezighi earned his fourth Olympic berth 16 years after earning his first one and were it not for the arrival of Rupp, he’d still be the top marathoner in the United States right now. Meb was viewed as old when he won the U.S. Trials at 36 four years ago and since then he’s placed 4th at the Olympics, won the Boston Marathon and made another Olympic team. His ability to produce high-quality performances race after race is simply astounding. His time today was also a new US master’s record in the marathon.

Meb talked a lot in the buildup about how he wanted to make this team for his daughters. He certainly did that, and the hug they shared with him just beyond the finish line is a moment they’ll remember for the rest of their life.

As for the race itself, it wasn’t an easy one for Meb as he had cramping around halfway in his ribs and then the during the last six-mile loop felt like he was going to vomit. He said “On the last lap I had issues again, I couldn’t show it, but I was struggling to throw up… and I said, ‘you’ve just got to make that team, you’ve got to make that team.’

Overall Meb said running this weekend was almost a homecoming with so many people coming out of the woodwork to see him.

“I feel blessed. Believe it or not I was a very shy kid. Sports did a major thing for me. Going through ESL, English as second language, running has changed my life,” he said.

On the race as a whole and making his 4th Olympic team he said, “It was hard, it was difficult. It was a struggle, but I feel blessed.”

3rd May Be Sweeter Than First

3rd may be sweeter than 1st

Quick Take #3: Jared Ward was built for a marathon like this

Ward has run four marathons in his life and in the last three he’s finished 2nd, 1st and 3rd at the U.S. Championships. Obviously that 3rd today counts a lot more than the other two as that result makes him an Olympian for the first time.

The BYU grad’s track PRs of 13:34 and 28:36 are quite strong, but the marathon is clearly his best distance. In particular, Ward seems well-suited for championship marathons as he won the 2015 U.S. Championships (also in LA), running a PR of 2:12:56 in hot conditions and came within four seconds of that time today, running almost perfectly even splits (66:31-66:29).

Ward has improved in each of his four marathons (though he was four seconds slower, his run today was more impressive than his U.S. title last year) and at just 27 years old, there’s no reason to think he won’t continue on his upward trajectory in the years to come.

Jared Ward’s career marathons

2013 Chicago: 2:16:18, 19th
2014 Twin Cities: 2:14:00, 2nd
2015 Los Angeles: 2:12:56, 3rd (won USATF title)
2016 Olympic Trials: 2:13:00, 3rd

Ward’s master’s thesis was on the proper pacing in the marathon and today he chose to let Tyler Pennel, Meb and Galen go after 16 miles. On that decision Ward said, “My decision to not cover the move was based on me thinking I could not make it going that fast… I’m watching them, hoping somebody comes back…(When the move was originally made) You’re thinking we’re getting near the end of the race, but there’s still 8-10 miles [left], which is a long way.”

Full Post-Race Press Conference

Quick Take #4: Luke Puskedra talks After finishing 4th

The beauty of the U.S. Trials lies in their simplicity: the top three men across the line get to go to the Olympics. But that finality can also be devastating when there are more than three guys deserving of a spot. Puskedra ran a terrific race today to take fourth, but now he’ll have to wait four long years before getting another crack at making the Olympic team.

Puskedra said his plan was to run conservatively because of the heat but he didn’t give up hope and kept grinding over the final miles with the hope that Ward would crack. That didn’t happen, and though Puskedra said he’ll “probably be kicking [him]self” in a couple days, he should be proud of how he ran today.

Quick Take #5: Tyler Pennel deserves huge props for his bold move and for hanging on in the aftermath

It takes a lot of guts to make a bold move in the biggest race of your life, and that’s exactly what Pennel did when he broke the race open, going 4:55-4:50 for miles 16 and 17. For a few miles, it looked as if Pennel’s courage would be rewarded with a trip to Rio, but he couldn’t sustain the pace and began to fade.

Perhaps even more than his initial move, we were impressed by Pennel’s refusal to give up. It would have been easy for Pennel to toss in the towel once Ward blew by him during mile 22. Instead, he continued to fight, scratch and claw his way for every second, and though Puskedra wound up passing him for fourth, Pennel protected fifth place over the final miles. He won’t go to Rio (he’s not even the alternate, as Puskedra will get the call if Rupp, Meb or Ward can’t go), but we won’t soon forget Pennel’s bravery and toughness today.

Overall Tyler was pleased with his effort.

Quick Take #6: Notable DNFs

Obviously Dathan Ritzenhein, who stopped just after the 20-mile mark, was the biggest name to drop out. But there were a few other notable DNFs, including Sam Chelanga and Diego Estrada, who both struggled in their debuts and dropped out after 19 miles. Will any of the three be back to contest the track trials in July?

Other Post-Race Men’s Interviews

Coach Bob Larsen Talks Meb (and Galen’s Medal Chances)

Bobby Curtis Struggled 2nd Half

Diego Estrada Said He’s Never Dropped Out Before But It Was The Right Thing To Do When Thinking About The Future

Nick Arciniaga Talks After Finishing 10th

Elkanah Kibet Talks After Disappointing Race Which He Blamed On The Heat

Matt Llano talks after finishing 6th at 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials

Tim Ritchie Battled Up Front Past Halfway

Fernando Cabada 55th Place

Chris Zablocki the Most Interesting Man in Running

Kevin Hanson on Desi and Bobby Curtis