Going the Distance
Highlighted by Galen Rupp’s historic performance at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, which ended Sunday, the U.S. team going to London has better odds of winning medals from 1500 meters to the marathon than it has since Lyndon Johnson was president and the Beatles made their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
“I know we’re going to be competitive in the distances when we get to London,” said Bob Larsen, a founder of what is known as the Mammoth Track Club, who coaches 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi. “I certainly couldn’t say that in 2000, and it’s increased dramatically since 2004 and even 2008.”
In 1964, Billy Mills famously won a dramatic gold medal at 10,000 meters, and two Americans—Bob Schul (gold) and Bill Dellinger (bonze)—earned Olympic medals at 5000 meters. No American man has won an Olympic medal at 5000 or 10,000 meters since.
In 2012, not only does Rupp have to be considered a medal threat at both distances, but Bernard Lagat, the veteran star who Rupp improbably outkicked at 5000 meters in Eugene, is still among the world’s best and couldn’t be hungrier for the top prize in what he calls his last chance.
“I just want to run for the gold. There’s nothing else,” said Bernard Lagat, 37, who won bronze and silver medals at 1500 meters while competing for his native Kenya. “That is what I want. That would define me.”
In addition to Rupp, who broke the legendary Steve Prefontaine’s 5000-meter Olympic Trials record and became the first man to win both the 5000 and 10,000 meters at the Trials since 1952, and Lagat, who in 2007 became the first American to win the World Championships at both 1500 and 5000 meters, the following runners will round out Team USA's distance squad:
- Dathan Ritzenhein (10,000 meters), a three-time Olympian with a bronze medal at the 2009 World Half-Marathon Championships to his credit;
- Matt Tegenkamp (10,000 meters), who at 5000 meters finished a close fourth at the 2007 IAAF World Championships;
- Shannon Rowbury (1500 meters), the 2009 World Championships bronze medalist;
- Jenny Simpson (1500 meters), the 2011 IAAF World Champion;
- Morgan Uceny (1500 meters), ranked #1 in the world for 2011;
- Matthew Centrowitz (1500 meters), the 2011 IAAF World Championships bronze medalist;
- Shalane Flanagan (marathon), the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters;
- Kara Goucher (marathon), the 2007 World Championships bronze medalist at 10,000 meters;
- Desiree Davila (marathon), the third-fastest American woman marathoner in history, who came within two seconds of winning the 2011 Boston Marathon;
- Meb Keflezighi (marathon), the 2004 Olympic silver medalist; and
- Ryan Hall (marathon), whose time of 2:04.58 from Boston 2011 makes him the fastest American marathoner in history.
The resurgence at 1500 meters and the marathon are particularly remarkable. In 2004, Carrie Tollefson was the only American woman to represent the United States in Athens at 1500 meters; now the USA has both the defending World Champion and the #1 woman in the world. In the marathon, Rod de Haven and Christine Clark were the only American marathoners eligible to compete in Sydney in 2000; four years later the U.S. had a silver medalist in Keflezighi and a bronze medalist in Deena Kastor. In 2012, all three women on the U.S. team are podium contenders.
Juli Benson, who coaches Simpson and was herself a 1500-meter Olympian in 1996, said that a debt is owed to Keflezighi and Kastor, whose Olympic marathon medals in 2004 are widely credited with jump-starting U.S. distance running.
Motioning toward Uceny, Rowbury and Simpson as they spoke with the media after making the team, Benson said, “Deena showed that it could be done, and all these girls were probably sitting at home watching her do it.”