As They Prepare To Face Off At The Chicago Marathon, A Look At The History Of Former Training Partners Mo Farah & Galen Rupp

October 2, 2018

Six years ago, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp were on top of the world.

On August 4, 2012, the second night of track and field at the London Olympics — known forever after as Super Saturday for British track fans — Farah and Rupp finished 1-2 in the 10,000-meter final, a result that would have been impossible to predict less than two years earlier.

Prior to 2011, Farah and Rupp were far from world beaters. Farah’s highest global finish had been a 7th in the 5000 at the 2009 Worlds, where Rupp had finished a then career-best 8th in the 10,000. Plus, for decades, the 10,000 had belonged to athletes from one continent — Africans had swept the medals at five straight Olympics from 1992 through 2008. But in London, Farah, a Brit (admittedly an African-born Brit), and Rupp, an American, put an end to that dominance.

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Farah’s gold and Rupp’s silver were clearly the spoils of a relationship forged at the start of 2011, when Farah moved from London to Portland, Oregon, to train with Rupp under Alberto Salazar as part of the Nike Oregon Project. It was a partnership that pushed both men to the highest level of the sport, where each man has remained ever since. Farah, 35, now is the most decorated track distance runner in history, with 10 golds and two silvers between the Olympics and the World Championships. Rupp, 32, has gone on to great success in the marathon, adding a second Olympic medal in that event in 2016 and winning last year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

On Sunday, the two men will race each other at this year’s Chicago Marathon. It is their first meeting at the marathon distance, and the first over any distance since they tangled (literally) in the 2016 Olympic 10,000 final (Farah won, Rupp finished fifth). It has all the makings of a heavyweight title fight: America’s greatest distance runner squaring off against Great Britain’s greatest distance runner, two former training partners duking it out over 26.2 miles.

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And yet one thing remains unclear: the relationship between the protagonists. Mayweather-MacGregor, this is not. But Rupp and Farah, who officially left the Oregon Project in October 2017, have unquestionably drifted apart since Super Saturday, and few people truly know how one feels about the other. Do they hate each other? Do they still talk? Or are they like most former colleagues, cordial but not close now that they no longer spend every workday together? Rupp, who values his privacy, stays off social media and is typically guarded in interviews. And while Farah is gregarious in front of a microphone, he’s rarely been asked about Rupp directly; the media tends to focus on his relationship with Salazar, who has been under investigation by USADA since 2015.

It’s something we’re curious about, too; we’ll definitely ask both Rupp and Farah about their relationship at Friday’s pre-race press conference in Chicago. But to prepare, let’s take a look at what we do know about the two former training partners.

2011-2012: The Honeymoon Phase

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Before they joined forces at the start of 2011, Farah and Rupp were both accomplished distance runners but neither was on anyone’s shortlist to medal at the 2012 Olympics. Farah had failed to make the 5,000 final at the 2008 Olympics as a 25-year-old. He had improved over the next two years, finishing seventh at the 2009 Worlds and earning double European gold in 2010 while lowering his 5,000 pb to 12:57, but still felt as though he had not reached his potential.

“[2010] was a great year for me and, if I’m ever going to get close to a medal in a world champs or Olympics in 2012, something needed to change a little bit,” Farah told The Guardian in February 2011.

That change was Salazar, whom Farah said he believed could “make that 1-2% difference to get close to a medal.” Farah moved to Portland at the start of 2011, where he joined the Oregon Project, a group built around Rupp, whom Salazar had coached since Rupp was a high schooler. Rupp, who had finished eighth at Worlds in the 10,000 in 2009, was not yet competitive with the very best Africans but was still improving, dropping his PRs from 13:30 and 27:33 to 13:07 and 27:10 in 2010. Initially, he questioned the decision to add Farah to the group.

“I was leery,” Rupp told Sports Illustrated‘s Tim Layden in early 2012. “I think we’ve got the best training program in the world, with Alberto’s coaching and Nike’s resources. And now we’re adding one of our chief competitors. I said to Alberto, ‘Why are we bringing this guy in?'”

But Rupp and Farah quickly became friends.

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“He was like the guys I hung with in college,” Rupp said in the February 2012 feature in SI.

“We just clicked,” Farah said in the same article. “We never talk about running. We do enough of that.”

As they grew friendly off the track, both men got a lot faster on it. Farah became the world’s best distance runner in 2011, running massive personal bests in the 5,000 (12:53) and 10,000 (26:46) and earning 5,000 gold and 10,000 silver at the World Championships. Rupp finished seventh in the 10,000 at Worlds (his best finish yet) and ran 26:48 to break the American record in Brussels.

The next year was even better: Farah swept the 5,000 and 10,000 at the Olympics on home soil, while Rupp broke 13:00 for the first time and earned America’s first medal in the 10,000 since Billy Mills in 1964. It seemed like a match made in heaven, and the two were the subject of numerous articles gushing about their friendship and how they bonded by kicking around a soccer ball at practice or playing FIFA together.

2015-2017: Things Get Complicated

On May 26, 2015, The Oregonian published an article from NOP’s altitude camp in Park City, Utah. Not much appeared to have changed from the previous four years; there were pictures of Rupp and Farah grinding through a track workout and smiling through another game of FIFA after practice.

Eight days later, ProPublica published its own article on NOP. This one was less favorable; multiple former NOP athletes accused Salazar of violating medical and anti-doping rules (Farah, who has never been sanctioned for any sort of anti-doping offense, was not implicated). Within two weeks, The Telegraph had its own article detailing how Farah had flown to France to train on his own in Font Romeu (Salazar denied that there was any rift, explaining that Farah was on a different training cycle than the rest of the group).

Farah defended Salazar publicly at the time and has continued to do so, even after leaving the group last year.

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“I’m not leaving the Nike Oregon Project and Alberto Salazar because of the doping allegations,” Farah told The Sun in October 2017 when he announced his split from Salazar. “We want the kids to grow up in the UK. It’s the right thing to do for my family. But both Nike Oregon Project and Alberto are based in the USA, so it just would not be possible to continue our relationship from London.”

Yet Farah had also grown frustrated over the British press’ constant questions about his relationship with Salazar, hitting out at his critics after the 2017 World Championships.

“It’s like a broken record, repeating myself,” Farah said in The Guardian. “If I’ve crossed the line, if Alberto’s crossed the line, why bring it up year after year, making it into headlines? I’ve achieved what I have achieved – you’re trying to destroy it.”

In that same interview, Farah also admitted what had been clear ever since the ProPublica story broke: though Salazar still sent him workouts, Farah did not spend as much time with Salazar as in the early years of their relationship.

“How many races has he been to this year for me or last year?” Farah asked. “He hasn’t been to any. I‘ve been pretty much by myself with the guidance of Alberto, as you all know.”

Farah was also no longer working out with Rupp with any regularity — scroll through Farah’s Instagram account and you’ll find only two pictures of the men training together since the start of 2016 (the pictures were from the same workout in December 2016) — though not necessarily because of the ProPublica article and the subsequent USADA investigation. Farah had gone on altitude trips without Rupp in the past, including one to Ethiopia in the first few months of 2015.

“He’s always gone over there,” Rupp told NBC Olympic Talk in January 2015. “I think he just doesn’t want to change anything. It’s obviously worked for him in the past.”

In addition, beginning in 2016, Rupp and Farah had different focuses. While both men still overlapped in the 10,000, Rupp’s increasingly started to focus on the marathon while Farah stayed on the track and ran the 5,000.

Whatever the reason, by the end of Farah’s stint with NOP, it was clear that Rupp and Farah were no longer the close training partners they had been in the buildup to London 2012.

Remember, Farah Owns Rupp

There’s one more dynamic in Farah and Rupp’s relationship that should not be overlooked: Farah has owned Rupp head-to-head.

Farah and Rupp have lined up against each other in a race 22 times in their career. Here are the results of those races, per Tilastopaja (overall place in parentheses):

Distance Race Farah Rupp
5000m Aviva Gateshead 2010-07-10 13:05.66 (7) 13:10.05 (9)
3000m Aviva London 2010-08-13 7:40.75 (2) 7:43.24 (5)
5000m WK Zürich 2010-08-19 12:57.94 (5) 13:07.35 (12)
8K XC BUPA Edinburgh 2011-01-08 25:41 (1) 25:50 (2)
5000m Aviva Birmingham 2011-02-19 13:10.60 (1) 13:11.44 (2)
Half Marathon NYC New York NY 2011-03-20 60:23 (1) 60:30 (3)
5000m Aviva Birmingham 2011-07-10 13:06.14 (1) 13:06.86 (2)
5000m Herc Monaco 2011-07-22 12:53.11 (1) DNF (0)
10,000m WC Daegu 2011-08-28 27:14.07 (2) 27:26.84 (7)
5000m WC Daegu 2011-09-04 13:23.36 (1) 13:28.64 (9)
One Mile New Balance Boston MA 2012-02-04 3:57.92 (4) 3:57.10 (3)
1500m High Perf Eagle Rock CA 2012-05-18 3:34.66 (1) 3:34.75 (2)
5000m Pre Eugene OR 2012-06-02 12:56.98 (1) 12:58.90 (3)
10,000m OG London 2012-08-04 27:30.42 (1) 27:30.90 (2)
5000m OG London 2012-08-11 13:41.66 (1) 13:45.04 (7)
5000m High Perf Eagle Rock CA 2013-05-17 13:15.68 (1) DNF (0)
5000m Pre Eugene OR 2013-06-01 13:05.88 (2) 13:08.69 (6)
10,000m WC Moskva 2013-08-10 27:21.71 (1) 27:24.39 (4)
5000m WC Moskva 2013-08-16 13:26.98 (1) 13:29.87 (8)
10,000m WC Beijing 2015-08-22 27:01.13 (1) 27:08.91 (5)
5000m WC Beijing 2015-08-29 13:50.38 (1) 13:53.90 (5)
10,000m OG Rio de Janeiro 2016-08-13 27:05.17 (1) 27:08.92 (5)
Wins: 21 1
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Mo Farah leads the head-to-head 21 to 1, and that one loss requires further explanation. It came in the mile at the 2012 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, a race in which Farah fell on the first lap. He was five meters off the back of the pack when he got up, but he finished the race in 3:57.92. This is his only career defeat to Rupp.

Put yourself in Rupp’s shoes. Farah has joined your group and you’ve become one of the best runners in the world, but he beats you every time you race. He’s the biggest obstacle between you and a world/Olympic title. Do you want to keep training with the guy you need to beat more than anyone?

Put yourself in Farah’s shoes. You’ve become the best runner in the world, but with you pushing him in training, your training partner has become one of your biggest rivals. Do you want to keep training with a guy whose biggest goal is to knock you off the top of the podium?

It’s not unprecedented for the best guys in the world in an event to also be training partners — Rongai Athletics Club’s Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot have been the world’s best 1500 runners for the past two years — but is it really a huge surprise that two hypercompetitive guys like Rupp and Farah drifted apart?

Can Rupp Finally Get a “Real” Victory Over Farah in Chicago?

That is the big question of the week.

1-21 would indicate no, but Rupp has a few advantages over Farah when it comes to the marathon. Rupp’s PR is faster (2:06:07 to 2:06:21), he’s more experienced (six marathons to Farah’s two), and he has the more impressive resume (wins in Chicago and Prague, Olympic bronze). If he is going to end his losing skid to Farah, the marathon is the distance at which to do it.

At the same time, there is a lot to like about Farah. He ran 2:06:21 in London this spring despite going out in a suicidal 61:00 for his first half on a warm, sunny day; surely he could have run faster with better conditions and better pacing (both of which Rupp had in Prague, where he ran almost dead-even splits of 63:00/63:07). And while one might not think that the marathon would end up being a great distance for someone like Farah, who has 3:28 1500 pb, it should be pointed out that Farah has a significantly better resume than Rupp at the 13.1-mile distance. In the half marathon, Farah has a 59:22 pb and has broken 60:00 four times, which Rupp has only done once (59:47 pb). And unlike Rupp, who has battled an Achilles injury in his Chicago buildup, Farah has looked terrific, winning his fifth straight title at the Great North Run last month in 59:27.

Still, Rupp hasn’t had many opportunities to run in a fast, rabbitted marathon like Chicago (remember, Chicago brought back pacemakers this year so that Farah and Rupp can chase the European and American records of 2:05:48 and 2:05:38, respectively). Prague was the only rabbitted race Rupp has been in, and that came just 20 days after Rupp was forced to drop out of the Boston Marathon.

No one can say for sure which man will hold up best in Chicago in a race that we expect to go out in the 62:00-62:30 range. And while Rupp and Farah’s personal history adds a layer of intrigue, the most compelling question isn’t why they stopped training together or how close they still are. It’s a simple one: Who’s the better marathoner?

Note: reached out to Ricky Simms, the agent of both Rupp and Farah, to ask him about their relationship (and to ask whether Rupp or Farah wanted to comment). As of publication, LRC has not heard back from Simms.

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