Sunday, May 20, 2007

Is Galen Rupp Ready for the International Stage?

This afternoon I finally had a chance to watch the tape delay of the PAC 10 Track and Field Championships I tivoed last night (hmm... a tivo delay of a tape delay. I thought technology was supposed to speed things up?). Tom Feuer, the FSN announcer who (along with the ubiquitous Dwight Stones) did the color commentary for the broadcast. Feuer seems to think that Galen Rupp, the 21 year old distance-running phenom from the University of Oregon, is ready to break into the international running scene with his 5000m win at the Pac 10 meet. The proof? A 2:02.7 last 800m and a 61.6 last lap that left Arizona's Obed Mutanya some 15 meters back at the tape.

Mutanya challenged with some 150m to go, but Rupp easily held him off and pulled away to add 10 more points (he also won the 10000m) to the Oregon men's team victory. Impressive win, to be sure, but a 14:02 is a long way from a 12:50 Rupp will need to compete on the European circuit. Rupp's PR, set on April 20th, is a 13:30.49. That's not too shabby for a 21 year old but it's still 19 seconds off Juan Luis Barrios' world-leading time of 13:11.37. In fact, Rupp is only the 8th ranked American 5000m runner right now and 20th in the world.

Rupp is sure to rank among the world's top distance runners with a couple more years of seasoning. Right now, though, he needs to extend that incipient kick of his out to about 4 laps at a 60 second per lap pace. Otherwise, he's going to suffer the same fate that other 21 year old Oregon phenom, Steve Prefontaine, suffered at the hands (or should I say feet?) of Lasse Viren, Mohamed Gamoudi and Ian Stewart in the 1972 Olympic 5000m final. In that race, Pre ran his three next-to-last laps in 62.5, 61.5 and 60.3. He was with the leaders at the bell lap but Viren ran the last lap in 55.8 to win in 13:26.4 to Pre's 13:28.3 4th place finish. Nowadays, the last lap of a world-class 5000m race is usually even faster than that. There's a good lesson to be learned from that race. Hopefully Rupp has watched it:

I would love to see the American distance runners take center stage again at the world level. Rupp's not quite ready to do that, although he certainly could be in a couple of years.

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