LONDON – A pair of training mates from Oregon turned Olympic distance running history on its head on Saturday night, and the 80,000 track fans who saw it firsthand will be talking about it for decades.
Africans had dominated the men’s 10,000 meters at the Games for nearly a quarter century so when Somalian-born, London-raised Mo Farah of Great Britain surged away from the pack to take gold in 27 minutes, 30.42 seconds, the collective elation was deafening. And when the coltish blond 26-year-old Galen Rupp crossed next, 48 hundredths of a second later with an exultant grin to claim silver, somewhere in London their coach Alberto Salazar, was glowing.
Rupp didn’t know where. More than an hour later, Salazar had yet to contact them. Rupp just shrugged. He and Salazar been planning this moment for 10 years, since he was a high schooler at Central Catholic in Portland.
“We saw him before the race, on the practice track,” Rupp said of the three-time New York City Marathon winner and 1982 Boston Marathon champ.
For the notoriously meticulous coach, it seemed all had been planned except a celebratory reunion.
Meanwhile, Rupp had barely gotten used to his new status.
“I still haven’t wrapped my head around the race,” Rupp said. “Alberto and I sat down when the Nike Oregon Project was just starting and we came up with an audacious goal. We’re going to put Americans on the distance podium. He said it’s going to take a long time and we’re not going to take any short cuts.”
When Farah joined the Oregon group a year and a half ago, the formula was complete. “Mo was kind of the missing piece for me,” Rupp said.
During Saturday’s race, Rupp said, “I was cognizant of where he was. He tapped me on the shoulder when I was getting a little antsy and said, ‘Just relax. We have to play it cool.’ I owe a lot to him.”
The race unfolded slowly. Eritreans and Ethiopians took charge early, and withstood a Kenyan surge. With eight laps remaining in the 25-lap race, Rupp was in fourth place and flirting with third. With six laps to go, Farah had joined his best friend in the top five. With less than three laps remaining Farah found the front with Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia (the younger brother of Kenenisa Bekele, who had won the last two gold medals in this race and was vying for a three-peat). Farah kicked hard to open a gap and Rupp, the American record holder, shifted gears to pass Tariku Bekele on the outside and give the Oregon Distance Project the top two steps on the podium.
By capturing sliver, Rupp became the first American man to earn an Olympic medal at 10,000 since Billy Mills in 1964, and just the third in history. And while Rupp’s 27:30.90 was only about six seconds faster than he had run in Beijing to place 13th, he had been working especially hard on his final kick. It proved to be effective at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in June when he beat Bernard Lagat in 5,000 meters, and it worked again on Saturday.
“It’s a good weapon to have at the end – especially when you’re confident about it,” Rupp said.
Rupp will have another opportunity to use his final sprint. Both he and Farah are doubling in the 5,000 meters which begins on Wednesday with prelims. The final will be held on Saturday, August 11.
Dathan Ritzenhein was the second American finisher, in 13th place (27:45.89). He had only gone back to the track six months ago after falling eight seconds short of making the cut for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon team. Ritzenhein had been the top U.S. male finisher in the 2008 Olympic marathon, placing ninth, but the 10,000 meters was his original Olympic distance in Athens. In 2004, he did not finish. This time, he did – just not as well as he’d hoped. “I was strong enough to stay in it,” he said. “It was just poor tactics. In the marathon, you have a little more time to react. [In track] there’s no room for error. I knew there was going to be a big kick. I just didn’t get there quite in time.”
Matt Tegenkamp placed 19th (28:18.26) and said afterwards, “That was a 5K race, not a 10. The way they closed was brutal. It’ll be pretty awesome to see what [Rupp] can do in the 5.”
OTHER HIGHS: In the women’s 100m, Carmelita Jeter took silver in her Olympic debut in 10.78 seconds behind Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica who won her second consecutive gold medal in 10.75. Tianna Madison placed fourth with a personal best 10.85 and Allyson Felix who had tied with Jeneba Tarmoh for third at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, also ran a personal best (10.89) to place fifth. In the men’s long jump, Will Claye took bronze (8.12) behind gold medalist Greg Rutherford of Great Britain (8.31) and silver medalist Mitchell Watt of Australia (8.16)
NOTABLE LOWS: In women’s discus, Stephanie Brown Trafton failed to defend her 2008 Olympic title, finishing eighth (63.01) as the only American in the final. Also, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in heptathlon, Hyleas Fountain, did not start the final event, the 800m run, and was scored as a DNF. The top American was Sharon Day in 16th place (6232 points) while the gold went to British pre-race favorite and 2009 world champion Jessica Ennis (6955 points).
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.