Galen Rupp is the greatest American long-distance runner of the 21st century.
Galen Rupp is a mystery: little media, and once the emblematic runner of a team whose leader, marathon champion turned disgraced coach Alberto Salazar, transgressed the sport in so many ways.
Galen Rupp is a hero, especially in his home state of Oregon, site of the World Championships in Athletics which begin this week, where he was just about the fastest teenager ever. seen, which says a lot about the unofficial capital of America.
Galen Rupp is a cautionary tale, an object lesson in the price of loyalty in a sport where athletes must prove their innocence every day. And even if they do, an association with someone who has been convicted of cheating can raise eyebrows forever.
Galen Rupp, the former teenage phenom who is now 36, is set to start the men’s World Championship marathon on Sunday, an opportunity to cement his legacy on the most welcoming ground.
He is all of these things, and more.
He’s a fierce and fearless competitor, ready and willing to push the terrain out of his way on the tracks and roads if necessary. He is a champion of the most important distances in distance running, so dominant in the marathon in the United States since 2016 that national competitions have become races for second and third.
He knows how to find the podium, whether the race is fast or slow or a speed or tactical event.
He is durable, with a career reaching the latter half of his second decade which has been filled with his share of injuries, but none of them have stopped him from fighting in the biggest races and often on the last lap.
And yet, rightly or wrongly, he is the epitome of the elite running around in the state of guilt by association in which it has existed for decades.
“Every athlete is entitled to the presumption of innocence, unless and until proven guilty through legal process, that he has committed a violation,” said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. agency anti-doping. “It’s not fair to condemn an athlete any other way, but the reality is, in today’s world, it’s the same lesson I tell my child, your choices have consequences, and everyone world does not accept this principle, and the choices of who you date, you will be seen by the company you keep.
Weldon Johnson, once one of the nation’s top distance runners and co-founder of Letsrun.com, the influential website that serves as a sort of superego for American running, said the associations would breed mistrust.
“I think we should assess his career like everyone else but with more skepticism because one athlete is more closely tied to Alberto than anyone else and that’s Galen Rupp,” Johnson said last week. “Based on his performance, he’s the greatest American male distance runner of his generation, probably since Steve Prefontaine.”
Rupp, whose agent, Ricky Simms, refused to make him available for this article, has never failed a drug test. There have been many, both those regularly scheduled at races and the out-of-competition random tests that all international athletes must randomly undergo.
Salazar, a former men’s marathon world record holder, three-time New York champion and 1982 Boston champion, discovered Rupp by watching him play high school football in Portland, Oregon, believing his blend of speed and stamina would translate perfectly to elite distance running.
In 2001, Salazar founded the Nike Oregon Project, a distance running team focused singularly on the development of athletes – particularly Rupp after his career at the University of Oregon and, for a brief period, Mo Farah from Great Britain – who could beat the dominant East Africans in the biggest meets.
It worked. On a magical Saturday night in London at the 2012 Olympics, Farah and Rupp sprinted past the mighty Kenyans and Ethiopians to finish 1-2 in the 10,000 meter race. A week later, Farah also won gold in the 5,000m, while Rupp finished seventh. Rupp went on to win the U.S. Olympic Trials marathons in 2016 and 2020, burying the field in both races. He won the marathon bronze medal at the 2016 Games. He also won the Chicago Marathon, one of the fastest in the world, in 2017.
In 2019, after years of investigations and litigation, Salazar received a four-year ban from the United States Anti-Doping Agency for multiple doping-related offenses including testosterone trafficking and tampering with the doping control process.
That same year, Salazar came under scrutiny after two female athletes he coached, Mary Cain and Amy Yoder Begley, said he publicly ridiculed and shamed them when they came forward. for the Oregon project. Last year, a referee for the US Center for SafeSport ruled that it was “more likely than not” that Salazar digitally penetrated one of his runners during a massage. The centre, which is responsible for investigating and deciding such cases, banned him from the sport for life.
Nike had decided in 2019 to close the Oregon project. Rupp now trains with Mike Smith, the coach at Northern Arizona University.
No one has suggested that Salazar’s treatment of his female athletes should in any way taint what Rupp has achieved. But running has such a long and sordid history of doping violations that its participants, fans, officials and historians must navigate its difficult terrain. Almost all great champions, even those who have never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, have a connection to a coach, friend, teammate, or physiotherapist who violated global anti-doping rules.
“Rupp is hands down the greatest American long-distance runner of all time,” said Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon champion and former editor of Runner’s World. “He’s goofy – not media-friendly – and, yes, has this association with Alberto. But he’s been at the top for an incredibly long time, almost two decades, never failed a test of any kind. either I know and almost always behave at their best in major competitions.
Can he start over?
Rupp skipped any paydays he might have received for running one of the major spring marathons to focus on the once-in-a-lifetime chance of winning a world championship marathon in his home country.
The dents on his armor are chronic now. He told Runner’s World last month that he had been suffering from back pain for a year, and in the spring doctors diagnosed him with a herniated disc and a pinched nerve. He had Covid-19 last month.
Like nearly every other elite racer, Rupp knows a singular truth that is inevitably part of his chosen pursuit: elite racing is never as easy as he might have hoped. And when the shot fires on Sunday morning in another great race, it will go once more.