Thursday, August 16, 2012

Galen Rupp is My Hero

My senior year of high school my friends and I drove down to Eugene to watch the 2002-2003 Oregon State Cross Country Championships.  We all ran together on the Glencoe High Cross Country team but none of us were good enough to go to the state championships to race.

But we were excited just to be spectators because the men's race was supposed to be a showdown between the raining State Champion Ryan Jesperson and this new phenom Galen Rupp.  Because you know one of those names and not the other, you probably can guess how the race turned out, but let me tell you anyway.  The two of them charged away from the start in a dead sprint, opened up a solid lead, and spent the entire race shoulder to shoulder.  As they came onto the track for the last few hundred meters, Galen Rupp pulled away and won.  They finished 5K in under 15 minutes, and that was the first time in my life I had ever seen anyone run that fast.  It was electrifying.  At that moment  knew that Galen Rupp was going to do something great.

Since then I've moved out of Oregon and only heard about him from time to time.  But whenever I'd stumble across an article, I'd think, "Oh yeah, I saw that guy back in the day."  I remember seeing him in the Beijing Olympics, but he finished far back in the 10k and I was a little disappointed.

But in recent years his career has exploded, setting the American record in the 10,000 m and being the only person of non-African origin to go under 27 minutes in the same.  Something that hit me is that because athletes evolve over time, not only is Galen the current fastest white man in the 10k, he is the fastest white man of all time in the 10k!

Then when he won both the 5k and 10k at the U.S. Olympic Trials, I, along with everyone else in the world, was paying attention.  He was a serious contender for both events at the upcoming Olympics, something that the USA hadn't had for a long time.

So when the final of the men's 10,000 m came up the Saturday before last, I was glued to my couch to watch it live.  I like watching most Olympic events because athleticism of that level is always inspiring.  But this was the race that I really wanted to know who was going to win.  Most of the field stayed together for the first 25 laps, with different athletes taking the lead and then peeling off.  But with 800 m left and no one going for it I was screaming at the TV, " Rupp, go!"  Finally on the last lap Mo Farah took off and Rupp went with him, and the two of them charged through the final 400 m in 53 seconds to win gold and silver.

The last time I had felt like this watching a race was eight years ago during the Oregon State Champions.  Much has been said in the press about what Galen Rupp has accomplished; the first American to medal in the 10,000 m in more than 40 years, the first white athlete that can seriously compete with the east Africans in a long-distance event.  But not a lot has been said about how he did it.

I saw an interview he did with the press in London right after he got the silver medal, and he pointed out that he met Alberto Salazar in 2000, and that he had told Galen that they weren't going to take any short cuts.  Salazar was taking it upon himself to put together a group of guys to bring American distance running back to what it was, and that this was going to take years.  The fourteen year old thought about it, and decided that he was in for the long haul.

There have been some discussions on the blogs about Galen Rupp's perfect stride.  I ran the numbers and if he has run on average two hours a day since he started, he has taken 94,608,000 steps.  Most of which under the watchful gaze of distance legend Alberto Salazar. That is how he got that perfect form and ran onto the medal stand at the Olympic Games.

This is why Galen Rupp is my hero: not only is he fantastically talented, but he has the calm, patient work ethic to be his absolute best.  My running had hit a snag recently with nagging Achilles tendon pain, and I had recently dropped my speed and volume down to try to regroup.  It was disappointing that after six months of running I could do so little, and I was starting to doubt how far I had come and my plans for the future.  But seeing Galen say that there were no short cuts reminded me that being the best runner you can be takes years, and if you just trust in that quiet wisdom that you can achieve great things.

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