ATLANTA, GEORGIA, February 29—Galen Rupp successfully defended his Olympic Trials Marathon title, surging into the lead at 16M and running away from the field over the final 10K to finish in 2:09:20. Returning to form after a tumultuous year-plus, the 33-year-old Oregonian admitted, “It’s incredible, I feel relief almost more than anything. It’s been a really long year and a half.”
Behind Rupp’s runaway win, Jake Riley (2:10:02) and Abdi Abdirahman (2:10:03) captured the final two Tokyo spots, holding off the finishing rush of Leonard Korir (2:10:06). For the 31-year-old Riley this will be his first Olympics, while the 43-year-old Abdirahman will be competing in his fifth, one up on Rupp.
Starting off amid cool and windy conditions, Luke Puskedra made sure that the race got off to an honest start as he ran in front of the pack covering the opening 3M in 14:36. Brian Shrader took over from there, accompanied by Dan Nestor, and the duo soon gapped the field and built a 39-second lead as they completed the opening 8M loop in 39:32, a 2:09:34 pace.
Shrader dropped Nestor before crossing 10M in 49:07, 55 seconds clear of a massive pack of 46. The Northern Arizona alum maintained a 48-second lead over the pack at halfway (64:53) before Abdi went to the front and started to pare down the deficit.
At 15M (1:14:24) Shrader’s lead was down to 23 seconds when Rupp went to the front of the chase pack and in the span of a 4:57 uphill mile into the wind, completely changed the complexion of the race as he passed the faltering leader heading into the final 10M loop.
“I was feeling good,” Rupp said, “probably a little bit antsy. Talking to [coach Mike Smith] I think he really wanted me to wait and sit back until 19 or 20M. He told me to trust myself, and I felt like I just wanted to throw something in to test everybody out, to see how they respond to a little bit of an acceleration. That was really my thinking; it gives you more information for when you try to make your definitive move. I wasn’t expecting to pull away from everybody, there are a lot of talented runners here and it was still early in the race.”
But his testing move totally recast the race as he bolted to the front and Abdi, Korir, Augustus Maiyo and Matt McDonald went with the move—and everyone else’s Olympic hopes became a bit more anxious if not desperate.
That included Stanford alum Riley, who wasn’t surprised by the move, but elected to lay off the break. “It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of when somebody was going to go because we had run pretty conservatively up to that point. Talking to my coach Lee Troop beforehand, 30K would be the ideal spot to make my move, so I stuck with the plan.”
With Rupp at the helm, the lead quintet built a 31-second lead over a 12-man chase pack by 19M. “I tried to relax a little bit on the downhill as there were four or five of us moving together,” Rupp said. “Abdi kept telling me to keep pushing, you got to keep pushing. But I wanted to wait a little bit and then really go around 19 or 20.”
Right on schedule, Rupp accelerated at 19.5M and built a 3-second lead at 20M (1:38:51) that ballooned to 17 seconds at mile 21, and 29 seconds a mile later. “I used that experience of going hard on the uphill at 15M,” Rupp said. “I was able to get a little gap there and I had a lot of confidence when I went again and I got a gap.”
For an athlete who usually trains alone Rupp produced his best running as he soloed the final 6M en route to a 65:41/63:39 negative-split performance on a course that proved far more runnable than expected. “At that point it is just about continuing to keep the pressure on,” Rupp explained. “To keep pushing and to have confidence in all the training I’ve done to be able to close the race out. I tried to keep a calm mind, strong body, full heart. That was my mantra that last 6M: everybody is going through a lot of pain at that point, everybody is dealing with the hills, everybody is dealing with the wind and you got to keep fighting all the way to the end.”
About the same time Rupp made his move up front, Riley ditched the chase pack that included leading contenders Jared Ward and Scott Fauble. “It was a little nerve-racking to let that big of a group get away,” he said. “You have the confidence that someone is going to drop or you’re going to be able to catch them.” Riley, who like Rupp had surgery to repair a Haglund’s Deformity in ’18, moved past McDonald in the 22nd mile, and by mile 24 joined the 4-man race for 2nd.
Maiyo fell out of contention in the 25th mile, and as Riley forged ahead, uber-vet Abdi summoned all the experience of a career that has spanned three decades. “I was in Ethiopia for 12 weeks and was able to get some great training in and there you run hills every day,” he said. “I knew there were a lot of rolling hills here and that is my strength. If it had been flat, I’m not sure if I would have made it.” It made for a dramatic stretch run as Riley attacked 200m out to edge Abdi who just managed to hold off Korir’s late charge.
OT MARATHON MEN’S RESULTS
1. Galen Rupp (Nike) 2:09:20 (65:41/63:39);
2. Jake Riley (Boulder TC) 2:10:02 (65:41/64:21);
3. Abdi Abdirahman (Nike) 2:10:03 (65:41/64:22);
4. Leonard Korir (US Army) 2:10:06 (65:42/64:24);
5. Augustus Maiyo (US Army) 2:10:47;
6. Martin Hehir (Reebok) 2:11:29;
7. Clayton Albertson (Brooks) 2:11:49;
8. Jonas Hampton (unat) 2:12:10;
9. Colin Bennie (Reebok Boston) 2:12:14;
10. Matt McDonald (Atlanta TC) 2:12:19;
11. Tyler Pennel (OnZap) 2:12:34;
12. Scott Fauble (Hoka NAZ Elite) 2:12:39;
13. Haron Lagat (US Army) 2:13:04;
14. Brendan Gregg (Hansons-Brooks) 2:13:27;
15. Colin Mickow (unat) 2:13:45;
16. Elkanah Kibet (US Army) 2:13:52;
17. Josh Izewski (OnZap) 2:14:15;
18. Bernard Lagat (Nike) 2:14:23;
19. Scott Smith (Hoka NAZ Elite) 2:14:49;
20. Nicolas Montanez (On Mammoth TC) 2:15:02;
21. Sam Chelanga (US Army) 2:15:04;
22. Jim Walmsley (Hoka) 2:15:05
23. Ahmed Osman (Skechers) 2:15:26;
24. Enoch Nadler (unat) 2:15:30;
25. Grant Fischer (unat) 2:15:32;
26. Connor McMillan (unat) 2:15:55
27. Jared Ward (Saucony) 2:15:55;
28. Daniel Kremske (unat) 2:16:18;
29. Ian Butler (Brooks) 2:16:26;
30. Timothy Young (unat) 2:16:31;
… 38. Matthew Llano (unat) 2:17:22;
…dnf—Andrew Bumbalough (Nike Bowerman TC) (16M), Chris Derrick (Nike Bowerman TC) (21M), Stanley Kebenei (Nike) (21M), Jerrell Mock (unat) (16M), Dathan Ritzenhein (Hansons-Brooks) (22M), Brian Shrader (Saucony/Freedom TC) (16M) (64:53, Ryan Vail (unat) (13M).