The community that closely follows American distance running is full of zeal, snark and great passion.
Last week, in a race in Belgium, Galen Rupp broke the American record in the 10,000 meters, and by more than 11 seconds, finishing in 26 minutes and 48 seconds. That was his personal-best time, by more than 22 seconds.
Rupp’s run was the fourth-fastest in the world in 2011. He is now the 16th-fastest man in history at 10k; his 26:48 is the 29th-fastest of all time.
Chris Solinsky had held the American record, 26:59.60, set in May, 2010. Solinsky’s run was the 81st-fastest 10k ever run; Solinsky is now the 39th-fastest man in 10k history.
All those superlatives — and what did Rupp get from the American track and field community?
Along with the praise — a healthy dose of angst and criticism.
No American man has won an Olympic medal in the 10k since Billy Mills in 1964. There’s a lot of pent-up emotion. Bring on the therapy sessions!
“Dear Galen Rupp: Time to Move Up to the Marathon,” said one poster to the message boards at LetsRun.com, criticizing Rupp’s finishing kick.
As was duly noted, Rupp was blown away in the last lap of the race by eventual winner Kenenisa Bekele and Kenya’s Lucas Rotich.
Bekele won in a world-leading 26:43.16. Rotich took second, Rupp third. Bekele, for the unfamiliar, is the world-record holder and arguably the greatest 10k (and 5k) runner of all time.
More than one critic also noted that Rupp was blown away at the close of last month’s world championship 10k in Daegu, South Korea, finishing seventh.
Also on the LetsRun.com message boards: the assertion that Solinsky’s effort, at the beginning of the 2010 outdoor season, was just as good as Rupp’s, at the end of the year and on a super-fast track.
The event in Belgium, in Brussels, called the Van Damme meet, is notorious for speed. Dating back to 1996, 12 of the 16 fastest 10k runners of all time have turned in their best at Van Damme, including Bekele’s world-record 26:17.53, on August 26, 2005.
Wait — there’s more.
Alberto Salazar, the 1980s distance great who is now coaching both Rupp and Britain’s Mo Farah in Oregon — Farah won silver in Daegu in the 10k and gold in the 5k — said the following in comments published on the IAAF, or international track and field association, website:
“… When you run World Championships in hot weather you’ve got to deal with it.
“But even though Galen is not a big guy he’s still big compared to a Kenyan or an Ethiopian. It’s a disadvantage if you are a Caucasian running in the heat versus an African, you just have more body mass and it’s going to be harder.”
What’s an American record-holder to do?
First things first.
“I mean, I don’t — I don’t think it has anything to do with being white,” Rupp said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters, asked if it was a disadvantage to be a white runner in a discipline dominated by dark-skinned Africans.
“I think his point in saying that is more that I’m just a bigger guy than a lot of these guys,” adding a moment later, “It’s easier for them to stay cooler longer. I think that was the point [Salazar] was trying to make with that statement. You know, I agree with it.”
As for his finishing kick — Rupp agrees with his critics. He needs to get stronger.
It’s a process, he said.
Farah has urged patience. Salazar has urged patience.
If there is anything the American distance community ought to understand, that’s for sure it — if there is to be greatness in the 10k, it takes patience.
Rupp, for instance, finished 13th in the 10k at the 2008 Olympics. To go from 13th in 2008 to seventh in 2011 — that’s definitely moving up, isn’t it?
“Sometimes it takes time,” Rupp said. “It takes years of doing a lot of strength workouts and to keep the same approach we have been taking. You have got to be able to finish fast in slow races to be able to close in fast races.”
A couple years ago, he said, it was “hang on as long as you can.” Now it’s the “fun part, where I’m going to be there at the end.”
He said, “For me to make that next jump, I have to be sound. I’m close to making that big jump. I think I have the pieces in place to do something well. I have great people around me and full confidence they are doing the right thing.”