The sub-13 minute 5,000-meter is focused on making an impact in the 10,000 meters.
With all the focus on Galen Rupp’s recent sub-13 minute 5,000-meter clocking and the expected showdown between he and American record holder Bernard Lagat at these U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, one runner in the prestigious sub-13 minute club of first-rate American distance runners may be getting overlooked, even though he’s focusing on a different event.
His name is Matt Tegenkamp.
The 30-year-old former University of Wisconsin standout will be running in his second U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials this coming week in Eugene. In 2008, he was primarly a 5,000m man. At the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, Tegenkamp came dangerously close to a podium finish in that event, missing out on third by three one-hundredths of a second. And at the Olympic Trials in Eugene the following year, he finished behind Lagat to take second in the 3.1-mile event. But the Olympics didn’t pan out the way Tegenkamp had hoped, and he wound up placing 13th in the 5,000m final in Beijing.
A year later, however, Tegenkamp clocked 12:58.56 at the Golden League Meet in Brussels, an impressive mark he’s still proud of. It’s a mark he hopes will give him confidence when it’s time to kick for a spot on the team that will represent the United States in London later this summer.
At this year’s Trials, however, Tegenkamp isn’t putting the 5,000 meters at the top of his priority list. He now considers himself a 10,000-meter man, and it’s at that distance where he hopes to make the team.
“The 10,000 is just the point in my career where I’m at right now,” he says. “It’s not to say I’m not competitive, but the [5,000m] event has some huge names in there.”
Those big names include Lagat and Rupp, as well as 2008 1,500m Olympian, Lopez Lomong, who accidently blazed a 53-second penultimate lap at the Payton Jordan meet due to miscounting the laps, and then went on to win regardless.
“I think the way the 5,000 will unfold, it will be a slow race at first with a 50-52-second last lap,” Tegenkamp says. “And that’s not my style any more.”
Still, despite the fact that he calls himself “old” and going through the “old-man bell curve in his career,” Tegenkamp isn’t to be discounted as a serious contender for a spot on the U.S. team in the longer distance. “It’s my natural progression at this point,” he says of the move up in distance.
The man they call “Teg” still thinks he can still drop the proverbial hammer when the chips are down.
“I still got it this season,” he says of his finishing kick. “If it comes down to the last 600 meters, I can put down a good finishing kick.”
Tegenkamp, who is still coached by his college mentor Jerry Schumacher as a member of the Oregon Track Club, continues to train with his former Badger teammate Chris Solinsky, who will not compete in this year’s Trials due to a slow-healing hamstring injury.
Solinsky, despite not being healthy enough to compete at the Trials, hasn’t disappeared altogether. “He’s definitely around and has been slowly introduced back into the group,” Tegenkamp says of Solinsky. “He’s there on daily runs. He’s there for our strength sessions and showing up at the track. He’s keeping us honest, for sure.”
Making the Olympic team at 10,000 meters is first and foremost on Tegenkamp’s radar, but bringing a medal back to the United States is the ultimate goal. It’s an attitude that’s fueled in part by an admittedly disappointing performance in the 10,000 at last summer’s world championships in Daegu.
“I’ve always had the attitude that last year was probably my poorest performance at a major championships,” he recalls. “I pride myself if I am lucky enough to make a U.S. team, then I won’t be satisfied just being there—that I will perform as best as I possibly can. Last year, I was extremely disappointed with how I represented Team U.S.A.”
Tegenkamp finished tenth in Daegu, his time 28:41.62—hardly anything to shake a finger at, but a blip he wants to rectify later this summer in London.
“This year, I’ve become much more confident in the 10,000[m],” he says. “I want to do the best I can. I think that means holding on to a very hard pace for a very long time. Honestly, the real race doesn’t start until the last kilometer. You got to be there at that point. If the opportunity arises, you got to grab it.”