10,000 Meters of Red, White, and Blue

August 6, 2012

Features, Olympics

Something happened Saturday and I will never forget it as long as I live. I have watched copious amounts of sporting events in my short life and have seen enough miracle comebacks, electrifying finishes, and out-of-this-world athletes that nothing really surprises me anymore. I think the NBA really does a nice job of making my point clear with their “Where Amazing Happens” slogan.

Yes, amazing things happen all the time in the NBA- high-flying athletes doing ridiculous things that the majority of the world would never think of doing- but, at times we grow numb to that level of amazing because the normalcy of it all.

Rupp, doing what no American has done in 48 years, medaling in the Men’s 10,000 Meters.

Enter Galen Rupp. Born in Portland, Oregon and a former University of Oregon Duck hell-bent on becoming the best distance runner the United States has ever seen. While a lot can be written on the past accolades of Rupp, his biggest accomplishment, thus far, came Saturday in London during the men’s 10,000-meter final.

The last time an American man won a medal in the Olympic 10,000-meter was 48 years ago when Billy Mills captured the gold and shocked not only himself, but the world (if you want to get a whole-lotta inspired today, watch this clip of Mills).

Elite running has transformed immensely since the days of Mills and Americans had yet to bridge the gap created by the rest of the world. The East African stranglehold on male distance running has been as impressive as it has been stifling for the rest of the world. Medal after medal, record after record, and these beautifully fine-tuned running machines had no intentions of breaking down anytime soon. Luckily, Galen Rupp did something no American male distance runner has done for quite sometime- he believed.

For Rupp to believe he could medal in an Olympic 10k would be comparable to Norris Cole believing he could take on LeBron James, Kevin Love, and, oh, I don’t know… The rest of Team USA in a game of really unfair one-on-one. While still a talented basketball player, he is stacked up against the best in the world and is lacking some of the physical gifts graciously bestowed on his counterparts. Rupp was Norris Cole Saturday night and he straight balled on some dudes.

Maybe that comparison is taking it a little far. After all, Rupp is the American record holder in the indoor 2-mile, the 10k, and (now) the biggest balls on a world stage. Coming into the race Saturday, Rupp was carrying the hopes of the U.S. running community on his back and many of us expected great things from our favorite son. Sitting down to watch the final with my roommate and fellow teammate, we both were rooting for Rupp to shock the world, but didn’t think it was truly possible against such a stacked field.

While we watched him flawlessly navigate through the throngs of long, bony limbs on the track that evening, I began to share Rupp’s belief. Jockeying for position the last two laps, he was readying to pull off something extraordinary. A different strain of amazing was on display Saturday and I definitely was not immune. My roommate and I were on our feet yelling, screaming, willing Rupp to “DROP THOSE JOKERS!!” and end the dominance of the East African.

With 150 meters to go, Rupp was in contention for a medal and chills had taken over my body. Kicking past world record holder and winner of the previous two Olympic 10k’s, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, Rupp now had a full head of steam and would go on to finish second to training partner and British favorite Mo Farah.

Rupp celebrating his Olympic Silver.

My body was in paralysis and I was trying to understand the level of amazing that I just saw. Like I tell anyone who asks, the only time I have ever cried in my life was during the sad scene(s) of the great Adam Sandler movie Click. Well guys, chalk up another tear for this guy because I shed one after the race. Going from previous experiences and recent history, Rupp had no reason to believe he could battle for a medal the Olympic 10,000-meters. Rupp defied history and wrote his own piece of it that night. He believed in himself and used it to pull off an upset rarely paralleled in sport.

I share a couple things with Galen Rupp: I look malnourished, I am white, I am distance runner, and I live and train in Portland, Oregon. I am under no misconceptions, though, and realize my chances of running in an Olympic 10,000-meter final are slim-to-shut-the-front-door but running has a brutally simple and painful formula. The more miles you run, the better you will be. Other caveats apply but simply put, that is the truth. Saturday, Rupp made me want to run more miles, more often, with more belief than ever before. His inspired performance will set the groundwork for the next generation of runners.

A generation that is fearless in the international arena and greedy in ambition. In 27 minutes and 30 seconds, Rupp was able to change the mindset of American runners and prove that history does not always have to repeat itself.

Stephen Kersh (@KaptainKersh) is majoring in jogging at the University of Portland.

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