By Christopher Hunt
Galen Rupp laughed a lot. He joked. He was a goofy, care-free 21-year old having fun wearing track spikes, even with the burning spotlights of Madison Square Garden just two days away.
“I’m pretty young compared to the other guys in the race,” Rupp, the University of Oregon’s star senior, said about the famed Wanamaker Mile at the 101st Millrose Games Friday night.The mile obviously isn’t my greatest event. I don’t want to say that I’m going in there with expectations that I’m going to get beat. I’m being realistic about it. I’m just trying to get in there and hang tough and stay with them as long as I can and be as competitive as possible.”
Despite the grand stage, this is essentially speed work for Rupp who worked out at the Armory today with his coach Alberto Salazar. The coach also brought in Kara Goucher, who will also run the women’s mile Friday and her husband Adam Goucher, doing his first track workout in four months after a foot injury.
Rupp is one of the most promising young American distance runners entering a field that includes proven milers New Zealand’s Nick Willis, Australian Craig Mottram and returning champion Bernard Lagat. Rupp is primarily a 5,000 and 10,000-meter runner. Salazar said having Rupp race the mile at the Millrose Games and at the Boston Indoor Games Saturday gives Rupp the opportunity to get in high pressure situations – elbows and frantic finishing kicks all around – the type of thing he might see in the closing stages of the 10,000 at the Olympic Trials.
Rupp finished sixth in Boston in 4:02.02. He ran 4:01.8 as a high school senior at Central Catholic in Portland, Ore. The sub-four minute goal is still out there.
“This is my first time running at Millrose,” he said. “Obviously the atmosphere is going to be unbelievable. I’m not going to rule 4 minutes out. A lot of people talk about the track (11 ½ laps to a mile) but I’m not sure how slow the track really is. A lot of individuals have run pretty quick times there. I’m just trying to get under 4 and if I can sneak in there and get a couple of them at the end that’s going to be a big thing too.”
Neither Salazar or Rupp have any illusions of grandeur concerning Friday’s race, but it is a step in building Rupp’s confidence when he is challenged at the end of longer races, the way Lagat’s eyes widen when he sitting in a pack with 200 meters left in a 5,000-meter race – or a 1,500 for that matter – knowing his superior leg speed.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Salazar said. “Eugene, July 4, if it comes down to Galen and Abdi (Abdirahman)and Ritz (Dathan Ritzenhein) and Meb (Kelfezighi) and whoever else with 400 meters to go or 800 meters to go I want him to be thinking maybe the way Lagat does at the rest of the world, you know, licking his chops. I want Galen to be feeling like, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m faster than these guys.’”
The last time people remember Rupp at the New Balance Track and Field Center is at the 2004 New Balance Games as a high-schooler, racing in the elite 2 mile with another high school phenom, Josh McDougal (Peru, NY). Rupp ended up fourth in the race with the 14th fastest time in US history (8:54.45). McDougal dropped Rupp with 400 left and finished third in seventh-fastest time (8:50.40). McDougal, a senior at Liberty and Rupp finished 1-2 respectively at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in the fall. Rupp still remembered that day four years ago in New York, fans banging on the railing above the track. He remembered warming up and walking through the lobby.
“This place is awesome,” he said. “This is by far the best indoor track I’ve ever been on.”
Kara Goucher also put in a light workout with Salazar and will be a top contender in the women’s mile Friday. Salazar had planned for her to run three mile races this season but she underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee in December. She was back training a week later but said she simply wasn’t ready to race, so she decided to sit out the Boston Indoor Games.
Goucher, who was born in Astoria, Queens and moved to Minnesota when she was four, earned a bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan in the 10,000. She hasn’t run an indoor meet since 1999 while competing at Colorado. This will also be her first time at Millrose but her husband Adam has competed at the Garden twice.
“The women that won the World Championships can close in 58 (seconds) and that’s for 10K so this is just a good chance for me to get into some races where I am all-out and then still have to kick because that’s the reality of what it’s going to be like on an international level,” she said. “I’m hoping that I’ll run a few more races indoors where I have to stretch so that will transfer over to other races where I’ll have to fight a little more and kick a little harder.”
Goucher, like Rupp, doesn’t have any expectations for the race other than to stay competitive. For Rupp, he said it’s actually a relief to be in this type of race.
“It’s kind of cool to be in this situation because there are really no expectations on me,” he said. “People expect me to do bad, almost, because of the competition I’m running against. It’s nice. There’s no pressure. It’s kind of fun being able to go week after week after just racing. You just sprint all-out one week and the next week you’re right back at it. … I got a new respect for these guys though. People talk about how hard it is to run the 10k. It’s definitely hard to run the short stuff. It’s just a different kind of pain.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Tim Fulton