Is Rupp’s Best Chance For Rio 2016 Gold In The 10,000 Or The Marathon?
December 8, 2015
Today, Galen Rupp‘s agent Ricky Simms announced via email to LetsRun.com and others that he is going to run a half marathon this weekend, the Foot Traffic Holiday Half Marathon on Sunday in Portland.
Is Rupp’s half marathon part of a larger plan to make his marathon debut at the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials in February in LA, or is it just part of Rupp’s buildup for the 2016 track season, which includes World Indoors in his hometown, Portland, and the Olympics in Rio? At this point we don’t know, but Rupp’s camp is allowing the speculation to begin that Rupp may run the 2016 Trials. It should be pointed out that same thing happened in 2012, only to a higher degree as almost exactly four years ago, on December 12, 2011, Rupp actually entered the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials (4 Quick Thoughts: Galen Rupp Enters The 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials) only to later announce the week of the race that he was not going to make his marathon debut at the Trials.
This past week at The Running Event – a conference and trade show for running specialty retailers in Austin – a few sources asked us if we had heard (like they had) that Rupp was going to run a half-marathon and get his Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier (by running under 1:05:00). We had not, so we reached out to Simms yesterday to see if Rupp was possibly going to run a half marathon and the Marathon Trials. We weren’t the only ones asking as Simms emailed a statement to LetsRun and Runner’s World (and possibly others; the recipients were bcc’d on the email). Simms didn’t comment specifically on whether or not Rupp would be doing the Trials; he simply stated that Rupp was racing the Foot Traffic Holiday Half-Marathon and added, “He’s run this distance in the past as part of his ongoing training and is looking forward to competing in his first road race in Portland.”
While we don’t know if Rupp will run the Olympic Marathon Trials, it brings up an interesting question. Is Rupp’s best shot at winning an Olympic gold medal in Rio in the 10,000m or the marathon? Considering he’s already earned Olympic silver, it’s a logical question to ask and the answer to that question may ultimately be the deciding factor as to which event he does in Rio. Below, we break down the pros and cons of each.
Financially, many may be quick to dismiss the idea of Galen Rupp making his marathon debut at the Olympic Trials and bypassing a huge appearance fee for making his debut in Boston, New York or Chicago, but remember Rupp did enter the 2012 Marathon Trials and only scratched a week before the race. To some that would show Rupp and his coach Alberto Salazar have long contemplated making his debut at the Trials. A more skeptical reading would be Rupp and Salazar were never serious about Rupp running the 2012 Trials, but didn’t mind the publicity that came with the speculation.
As for bypassing a huge appearance fee to debut at the Trials, it is possible that Nike would pay him an appearance fee or bonus to race at the Trials. Without Rupp, Nike’s best chance of getting someone on the US men’s marathon team is Dathan Ritzenhein, but he just said in a recent interview that he’s dealing with a hip injury.
Another thing to factor in is that if Rupp runs the Marathon Trials, it would effectively rule him out of the 2016 World Indoor Championships, which are in Rupp’s hometown of Portland in March. Rupp ran the last three editions of World Indoors and a world championship in his hometown isn’t something we’d normally expect him to bypass.
But the more we thought about it, the more we concluded that worrying about appearance fees and worrying about skipping World Indoors may be beside the point. Rupp has already made a lot of money in his career and he has a driving ambition (which if achieved, will earn him way more money than he’s ever dreamed of) – winning Olympic gold.
Back in March 2013, we made Rupp our “Quote of the Day” when he said:
“At some point I would like to know that I’m the best in the world. I came pretty close last summer but I’m still not there yet. And if I do it this year at the World Championships or another year then we’ll see. If I can be that for one season or multiple seasons, who knows, but at some point I just want to be able to say that I’m the best in the world.”
Almost three years and two major championships later, Rupp still is looking to say he’s the best in the world. To his credit, he was the fastest man in the world in 2014 over 10,000m with his 26:44.36 at the Prefontaine Classic. However, you’re not really the “best in the world” until you win a gold medal.
The Big Problem In The 10,000 – Mo Farah
At first glance, Rupp’s odds of winning Olympic gold are likely way better in the 10,000 than the marathon. First, Rupp already has an Olympic silver in the 10,000 and one of the best PRs in the world with his 26:44. Compare that to the marathon, which is a complete unknown to Rupp as he’s never raced farther than 13.1 miles.
But for Rupp to win gold in the 10,000, there is one major obstacle in his way: Mo Farah. To win gold, Rupp would have to beat Farah, and in recent years that is something that has become increasingly difficult to do. Farah has been unstoppable at three consecutive outdoor championships, winning 10K/5K double gold at London 2012, Moscow 2013 and Beijing 2015. With a 3:28 1500 to his name, Farah’s speed in the last lap of the 5,000 and 10,000 just can’t be matched. Even in Beijing, where the Africans made it a relatively honest race, Farah still came out on top, running 27:01.13 to beat Geoffrey Kamworor‘s 27:01.76.
Rupp, on the other hand, despite running PRs at multiple distances almost every year, has fallen progressively farther away from winning the 10,000 as he was 2nd in 2012, 4th in 2013 and 5th in 2015. In 2012, Rupp was only .48 of a second from winning; in 2013, he was 2.68 away, but this year he was 7.76 seconds behind Farah. He’s also fallen farther away from a medal as he was 1.78 seconds away in 2013 and 6.08 seconds away this year. Paul Tanui (bronze in 2013 and 2015) has medalled at the last two Worlds and the emergence of Geoffrey Kamworor as Mo Farah’s main rival in 2015 could conceivably be the final straw that pushes Rupp to the marathon. With Farah and Kamworor likely in the field, repeating as an Olympic silver medalist looks incredibly daunting (in the 5,000 Rupp has been 7th, 8th and 5th, making him a long shot to medal there).
Rupp clearly has podium potential in the 10,000, but to beat Mo Farah in Rio (or even finish runner-up) he’s really going to have to improve his finishing kick. A key stat is that Rupp and Farah have faced each other in 21 races over their careers, but Rupp has got across the line first only once: the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix mile in 2012 where Rupp was 3rd (3:57.10) and Farah 4th (3:57.92). You know what happened in that race? Mo Farah fell down. Yes, the only time Galen has beaten Mo, Mo fell in the race.
Career Head-To-Head – Rupp Vs Farah (via tilastopaja.org)
|Galen Rupp USA||Mohamed Farah GBR|
|5000 m||Aviva Gateshead 2010-07-10||13:10.05 (9)||13:05.66 (7)|
|3000 m||Aviva London 2010-08-13||7:43.24 (5)||7:40.75 (2)|
|5000 m||WK ZÃ¼rich 2010-08-19||13:07.35 (12)||12:57.94 (5)|
|Cross Country 8.0 km||BUPA Edinburgh 2011-01-08||25:50 (2)||25:41 (1)|
|5000 m||Aviva Birmingham 2011-02-19||13:11.44 (2)||13:10.60 (1)|
|Half Marathon||NYC New York NY 2011-03-20||60:30 (3)||60:23 (1)|
|5000 m||Aviva Birmingham 2011-07-10||13:06.86 (2)||13:06.14 (1)|
|5000 m||Herc Monaco 2011-07-22||DNF (0)||12:53.11 (1)|
|10000 m||WC Daegu 2011-08-28||27:26.84 (7)||27:14.07 (2)|
|5000 m||WC Daegu 2011-09-04||13:28.64 (9)||13:23.36 (1)|
|One Mile||New Balance Boston MA 2012-02-04||3:57.10 (3)||3:57.92 (4)|
|1500 m||High Perf Eagle Rock CA 2012-05-18||3:34.75 (2)||3:34.66 (1)|
|5000 m||Pre Eugene OR 2012-06-02||12:58.90 (3)||12:56.98 (1)|
|10000 m||OG London 2012-08-04||27:30.90 (2)||27:30.42 (1)|
|5000 m||OG London 2012-08-11||13:45.04 (7)||13:41.66 (1)|
|5000 m||High Perf Eagle Rock CA 2013-05-17||DNF (0)||13:15.68 (1)|
|5000 m||Pre Eugene OR 2013-06-01||13:08.69 (6)||13:05.88 (2)|
|10000 m||WC Moskva 2013-08-10||27:24.39 (4)||27:21.71 (1)|
|5000 m||WC Moskva 2013-08-16||13:29.87 (8)||13:26.98 (1)|
|10000 m||WC Beijing 2015-08-22||27:08.91 (5)||27:01.13 (1)|
|5000 m||WC Beijing 2015-08-29||13:53.90 (5)||13:50.38 (1)|
Given those stats, by now Rupp likely knows he’s not beating Mo Farah unless one of three things happen. 1) Farah gets hurt in the buildup. 2) Father Time to suddenly catches up to the 32-year-old Farah 3) Rupp improves a lot in the 10,000. None of those three things are likely to happen.
But What About The Marathon?
Let’s turn our attention to Rupp’s chances at the marathon. Now we know what many of you are thinking. The marathon is full of African studs who have run 2:03-2:05 (60 men in history have broken 2:06), with one even running 2:02, and a non-African-born runner has never even run faster than 2:06:05 on a standard course so how could Rupp even be contemplating gold at the marathon distance?
Simple answer. Rupp would have one big thing going for him in the marathon: chance.
As we see time and time again, almost anything can happen in the marathon. For proof, look no farther than 2015 Worlds. In a race that had the marathon world record holder (Dennis Kimetto), the former marathon world record holder (Wilson Kipsang), the reigning Olympic and World champion (Stephen Kiprotich) and another Kenyan/three Ethiopians with 2:04-2:05 PRs and major wins to their name (Lelisa Desisa, Yemane Tsegay, Hayle Lemi and Mark Korir), the winner was unheralded Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, a 19-year-old Eritrean with a 2:07:47 PR.
At the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds, it was more of the same as Stephen Kiprotich, a man with “only” a 2:07:20 PR (at the time; has ran 2:06:33 since) upset the 2:04 and 2:05 guys with the big city marathon wins to get gold. The point is that it has been proven many times (Meb Keflezighi‘s wins in New York and Boston are perfect examples of this as well) that you don’t have to be a 2:03-2:05 guy to find big success in an unrabbited marathon. There are so many other factors like bad pacing, bad weather, a difficult course or an injury in the buildup that can completely derail the favorites, as it did in Beijing where both Kimetto and Kipsang DNFed.
If we were contemplating Rupp’s success at winning the London Marathon where just about every stud is on the line and there are multiple rabbits taking them out at world record pace, we’d say Rupp’s chances of winning would be next to nothing. After all, Mo Farah was only 8th in London in 2:08:21 in 2014. However, in a tactical race where Kenya and Ethiopia can only enter three runners each, there is a lot more room for good luck. The only man who’s looked unbeatable and runs consistently well every single time in the marathon in recent years is Eliud Kipchoge, but there’s not even a guarantee that he’ll be on the Kenyan team.
Speaking of making the team, we guess we just put the cart before the horse as Rupp would, of course, have to make the US team in the marathon before he could battle for gold. So let’s backtrack and talk about his chances of making the team in the marathon. If Rupp races the Trials with a proper buildup, we’d be very surprised, basically shocked, if he didn’t make the team. Sure it is his debut, but his credentials at 10,000 and the half-marathon are way better than just about everyone in the field (Ritz has a better half PR but that was run six years ago) and the trials are a wide-open race with no strong favorite.
Looking at the top marathoners in the US, Ryan Hall hasn’t run well since 2012, Ritz has a hip injury, and Meb Keflezighi is 40 years old. Abdi Abdirahman has made the last three US Olympic teams and is always a dark horse threat, but he is 38 years old and hasn’t run anything in recent years that indicates he is in 2:09-2:11 shape. Even one of the fastest guys in the “best of the rest” category, Ryan Vail (2:10:57 PR) is unlikely to be at his best as he’s just coming back from a sacral stress fracture.
We don’t know how good Rupp will be at the marathon as success at the shorter races doesn’t always translate to the marathon, but Rupp would likely be very good. According to the John Kellogg’s conversion chart, his 26:44 is worth a 2:05:45 marathon and his 60:30 half-marathon best is worth 2:08:36 (McMillan’s calculator converts them to 2:05:26 and 2:07:19). So unless Rupp blew up (certainly possible in his debut, but not too likely in a situation where he only needs to race for a spot rather than try to knock it out of the park) expect to see him finishing in the top three if he runs the Trials.
Which Is It?
It’s debatable which race would give Rupp the better shot for gold. To be honest, to win either, he likely will need some help. He’ll need someone like Mo Farah in the 10,000 or Eliud Kipchoge in the marathon to be off their games. While people have subpar races much more often in the marathon than in the 10,000, the fact of the matter is Rupp has never even run a marathon whereas he’s proven time and again he’ll be in the medal hunt with 300 to go in the 10,000.
While we feel it’s debatable which races gives Rupp the best chance for gold, we don’t think there is much debate as to which race gives Rupp the best chance for a medal – it’s the 10,000. The 10,000m is much more predictable than the marathon. After Farah and Kamworor, Rupp has as good a shot as anyone to finish third where in the marathon there will likely be six Ethiopian/Kenyan guys who are way more proven than him at 26.2 whom he has to “out-race”.
Our Prediction: The allure of Portland 2016 will be too tempting and Alberto Salazar‘s hesitation on moving up too great (he’s previously said Rupp wouldn’t run a marathon until after the 2016 Games) so Rupp will keep the focus on the track and not run the Marathon Trials. He may enter and keep us (and the competition) guessing until the week before, but we probably won’t see him on the streets of LA in February.
However, we aren’t ruling it out. Motivation is a very powerful thing and psychologically Rupp likely knows deep down he’s not beating Mo Farah without some big help. In the marathon, Rupp is still undefeated.
We have a PS and PPS below.
PS. What About The Double?
The 10,000/marathon is a doable double since they are separated by eight days with the marathon on the final day of competition. (Before his less than stellar marathon debut, Farah mentioned the possibility of the 10,000/marathon double in Rio.) Thus at the Olympics, Rupp could always focus on the 10,000 and give that everything he has and then just “run his race” in the marathon and hope the 2:03-2:05 type studs crater. However, in this day and age of specialization, it seems to be a long shot.
A more likely scenario would be for Rupp to run the Marathon Trials to see how he likes the event and to give himself options. If he loved it, he could do the marathon. If he didn’t, he could focus on the 10,000.
PPS. Winning in adidas’ Backyard
It’s worth noting that Sunday’s Foot Traffic Holiday Half-Marathon starts and finishes at the adidas North America Campus in Portland. It’s a very low-key race as the winners the past couple years have run 70:39 and 72:24, so it’s not the kind of event with a budget for elite athlete appearance fees. Since Rupp could have received a nice appearance fee from the Competitor Group if he had raced at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Half-Marathon last weekend (which was the buzz at the Running Event last week), some may be looking for a rationale as to why Rupp is running this race.
Before people jump to conclusions that Rupp and/or Salazar want to stick it to adidas, please realize the race doesn’t require Rupp to travel and it’s quite possible Salazar just wants him to do an easy workout-type effort to get his 65-minute qualifier. The top two in San Antonio were Aaron Braun and Jeffrey Eggleston and with PRs in the 61-62 minute range they are no slouches. Rupp would have won had he wanted, but would have been pushed into at least the 63-minute range as Braun won comfortably in 64:10.