The University of Oregon alum out kicks Bernard Lagat to win his second title at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
EUGENE, Ore. — There’s a little something known as the Hayward Field Magic, and Galen Rupp seemingly has a lot of it right now.
With one, final last-second surge only meters from the finish line, Rupp edged past defending U.S. 5,000m champion Bernard Lagat to win the 3.1-mile event at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in 13 minutes, 22.67 seconds, a time which broke the legendary Steve Prefontaine’s 40-year old meet record of 13:22.8. It was Rupp’s second win of these Trials, as he also captured the 10,000 meters on Friday night in a meet record 27:25.33. Lagat was the runner up in 13:22.82 to make his second U.S. Olympic team–he’s also represented Kenya twice–while former Sudanese Lost Boy, Lopez Lomong, qualified for his second-straight Olympic team, running 13:24.47 for third.
“I was just trying to get in there,” Rupp admitted after the race. “I knew it was going to be a big finish and I just went for it and I’m just glad I was able to hang on.”
The early pace was slow, as the entire field of 16 runners hit the 800-meter mark in 2:20 before road warrior Mo Trafeh made a bold move to the front and threw in a 63-second lap to quickly string things out. Trafeh, who qualified for the Trials with a time of 13:32.99 just a couple weeks ago, did his best to keep the pace honest, as he and other hopefuls needed a time south of the Olympic “A” standard of 13:20 if they were going to have a shot at making the team.
Coming through 3,000 meters in 8:12, Trafeh again surged to the front with another 63-second lap as Lagat and Rupp set the tempo for the chase pack which, at times, sat 30 meters behind. Lagat, who didn’t seem too concerned with Trafeh’s first move less than a mile into the race, matched the second one quickly in order to squash any possible surprises.
“There can always be a surprise,” Lagat said after the race. “So you have to be careful not to let anyone get away.”
With one mile to go (9:21) a large pack of 10 runners were still in contention as the pace slowly began to escalate once again. Six hundred meters later, that same group of 10 were still together as Rupp made a bid for the front, forcing the pace down to 60 seconds per lap. Lagat, Lomong and eventual fourth-place finisher Andrew Bumbalough (13:26.67) were the only runners still in serious contention at the bell, as Rupp continued to press the pace heading into the backstretch.
Lagat pulled up to Rupp’s shoulder with 200 meters to go as the duo opened up a small gap on Lomong. Nothing changed coming into the final straightaway as Lagat began to wind up in preparation for his trademark finishing kick, but it wasn’t to be on this night as Rupp matched the American record-holder stride for stride in the final 100 meters. Behind the thunderous roar of his hometown crowd, the University of Oregon alum pulled ahead in the closing meters and held on for victory behind an eye-popping 52-second last lap.
“I know in London I’m going to have to beat people in the last 100,” explained Rupp, who has been focusing on his finishing speed in training this season. “Alberto told me that beforehand. You could probably go earlier, play it safe, but you know what, you’re going to have to beat people in the last lap, in the last 100 specifically, in London and you need to start getting ready for that now.”
The ever-humble Lagat, who said his training is at about 90% right now, praised Rupp’s performance, revealing that he knew he was going to be in for a dogfight over the final two laps.
“He’s a tough competitor,” Lagat said of Rupp. “I knew that at any moment he was going to pass me. But I wanted to keep fighting hard and get in the top three so I could go to the Olympics.”
Lomong, who made the Olympic team in the 1,500 meters four years ago, is excited to be joining Rupp and Lagat at the longer distance in London. The native of Sudan, who trains with Jerry Schumacher’s Olympian-laden training group in Portland, feels that the trio has a great shot of bringing a medal home to the U.S. later this summer.
“I’m always pushing and challenging myself to see what I do,” Lomong said. “There’s more challenges to come, and I’m prepared to wear the U.S. on my chest and bring it down.”
For Rupp, the first man to pull off the 5,000/10,000 double at U.S. Olympic Trials since Curtis Stone last turned the trick in 1952, winning both races on at Hayward Field was nothing short of a magical moment in his young career.
“It’s unbelievable,” Rupp said. “I feel like the luckiest guy to be able to grow up here in Oregon, be able to compete at the University of Oregon, a great academic institution and great track program, and just be a part of the history here is phenomenal for me. Being able to finish it off running here at the Trials at Hayward Field on my home track, I couldn’t be any luckier, I couldn’t be any more blessed to be able to run here. These fans are unbelievable.”