Ed Eyestone Also Praises Rival Coach Mike Smith For Agreeing To Coach Rupp and Says He Doesn’t Think Anything “Really Nefarious” Was Happening From Rupp When He Was Coached By Alberto Salazar
By Jonathan Gault
February 27, 2020
Before the 2016 Olympic Trials, Jared Ward met with his coach Ed Eyestone to discuss the men he would have to beat to make the US Olympic team. One name that didn’t come up much: Galen Rupp. They figured there wasn’t much point to discussing someone they both knew would be making the team.
“Talking with Wardy pre-race, it was: okay, we’re running for one of these two open spots, so who are the guys that we’ve gotta pay attention to?” Eyestone says.
As they predicted, Rupp won the Trials in 2:11:13, putting over a minute on the field over the final four miles. Meb Keflezighi (2:12:20) claimed one of the open spots; Ward (2:13:00) earned the other. Plenty has changed in US marathoning in the four years since that sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, but one thing has not: Rupp remains America’s premier marathoner and will enter this weekend’s Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta as the favorite.
This time, however, Eyestone isn’t giving him a pass.
“I think that Wardy is going to be a factor as long as his stomach’s fine and everything’s going according to plan,” Eyestone says. “So I haven’t given Galen the golden ticket.”
Eyestone, who made the 1988 and 1992 US Olympic marathon teams, says his concern centers around the injury that caused Rupp to undergo Achilles surgery in October 2018 and go a year without racing: Haglund’s deformity. A bony enlargement on the back of the heel, the Haglund’s deformity in Rupp’s left leg caused his Achilles tendon to fray and partially tear in two places. Even when Rupp returned to racing at the Chicago Marathon in October 2019, he was still running in pain and ultimately dropped out after 23 miles with a calf injury.
Rupp has since run 61:19 to win the Sprouts Mesa Half Marathon on February 8, and his coach Mike Smith told LetsRun that Rupp is healthy and his leg will not be a concern at the Trials. But the 58-year-old Eyestone, who underwent surgery to correct his own Haglund’s deformity in 2016, says it won’t be easy for Rupp.
“When you’re coming off of Haglund’s, you’ve gotta demonstrate in the marathon that you can do it,” Eyestone says. “Because Haglund’s is not an easy thing. It was tough coming back to the same old guy pace that I was running. And I can still feel it on some days…I’d like to see if anyone who’s ever been elite has returned to their same level of eliteness following a Haglund’s. And I think if anyone could, [Rupp] could, because he’s got youth on his side. I’m sure he’s got the best doctors and I’m sure he’s done the right recovery.”
Interestingly, Rupp won’t be the only man in Atlanta trying to make the team after overcoming Haglund’s deformity. Jake Riley had surgery to correct the condition in May 2018; 17 months later, he ran 2:10:36 in Chicago, a PR of 2:40. Gwen Jorgensen also had Haglund’s and went under the knife in May 2019. Though the injury caused her to withdraw from the Trials, she returned to racing on February 15 (nine months post-surgery) with a 15:47 for 5,000 meters at the Husky Classic — 32 seconds slower than her PR from the same meet in 2018 (which had come just six months after giving birth). Rupp will run the Trials just over 16 months after his surgery.
Eyestone isn’t overlooking the other athletes in the Trials field — “I have tremendous respect for [Scott] Fauble and [Leonard] Korir’s time, you gotta pay attention to that as well” — but he’s confident that the work Ward has done in this buildup will allow him to battle for not only a spot on the team, but the win in Atlanta. He believes that Ward has improved since finishing 6th at the 2016 Olympics and notes that, even when Ward ran his PR of 2:09:25 in Boston last spring, he was battling an upset stomach.
“Galen, it’s hard for me to believe that he’s going to be running better than he has ever run before,” Eyestone says. “But I’m not looking so much at his weaknesses as I think Jared Ward is a different marathoner than when he was the 6th-best in the world on that given day in 2016 in Rio. And he didn’t have the magic shoes in 2016 and Galen did.”
Ward will race in Saucony’s Endorphin Pro on Saturday — a shoe Eyestone believes is much better than what he used at the 2016 Trials and Olympics.
There’s one more undercurrent to the Ward vs. Rupp matchup in Atlanta: it represents a new front of the friendly rivalry between Eyestone and Mike Smith, whose BYU and Northern Arizona squads have battled fiercely at the last three NCAA cross country championships.
“It is kind of fun, I guess,” Eyestone says. “It definitely doesn’t decrease the sense of rivalry that I think exists between our two schools.”
Neither Eyestone nor Smith will be in Atlanta, however: Eyestone will be in Seattle for the MPSF Championships while Smith will be in Pocatello, Idaho, for the Big Sky Championships. When you’re the head coach of a Division I track & field program, your day job comes first. Even if you’re coaching an Olympian.
Eyestone says that when he first heard Smith was coaching Rupp, he texted Smith and told him it was the best decision Rupp had made recently.
Rupp has never been implicated in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but of all the members of the since-disbanded Nike Oregon Project, Rupp had by far the closest relationship with Alberto Salazar, the group’s disgraced coach who was banned from the sport for multiple anti-doping violations in September. Was Eyestone surprised Smith agreed to coach Rupp?
“Not at all,” Eyestone says. “Because I don’t think anything really nefarious was going on on Galen’s side. He was with a coach that he’d had ever since he was in high school who he had great respect for, who he looked up to as, if not a father figure, then at least a great mentor to him. And I think he was just following his directives on all things.
“And I’m of the camp, in terms of Alberto, that yeah, he pushed the envelope. But he pushed it in regard to at least what he felt was within at least in the gray area that was still a legal area. And I don’t want to get into specifics of that because I don’t know everything.
“And so I think for Mike to turn his back on somebody who was wanting to continue and do the best he could, I would have been surprised by it. I don’t think it’s a black mark on Mike Smith’s character at all. I think, actually, it’s an opportunity for him to maybe even rehab what perception people have [of Galen]. Not that [Galen] even necessarily needs to have that done, but I think that by working with a coach that is above reproach, that that’s a good way to do it. That’s the first thing you do if you’re a public figure and there’s been some besmirch to your reputation, is you find somebody who is above reproach.”
Eyestone knows that Saturday’s race is the US Olympic Marathon Trials, not Ward vs. Rupp or Eyestone vs. Smith. But those races-within-the-race can still bring some extra entertainment to the fans.
“It will be a fun little stroll through Atlanta,” Eyestone says.
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