An epic 10k in a hard rain

EUGENE, Ore. — The rain here Friday was at times epic. It was cold and relentless. To make the United States men’s Olympic team in the 10,000 meters, you had to run 27 minutes through that rain. You had to run hard and tough and push away pain and doubt.

And a lot of history.

No American man has won an Olympic medal in the 10,000 meters since Billy Mills, in 1964.

Maybe, just maybe, watching Galen Rupp cruise to the finish line, his tongue out in a playful wag, a big smile as he loped down the home stretch at venerable Hayward Field, there is hope for London and 2012.

Rupp broke away with three laps to go to win in a Trials record 27:25.33. He closed in a final mile 4:13.

That 10k Friday was the fastest of the year by an American, and the 12th-fastest of all time by an American man.

“Mission accomplished,” Rupp said afterward.

Matt Tegenkamp, who has been bothered by injuries for the better part of a year, took second, in 27:33.94. “Everything had a purpose this year and it was all pointed toward this race,” he said.

Rupp’s training partner, Dathan Ritzenhein, came in third, in 27:36.09. In January, he had finished fourth in the Olympic marathon. “That fourth-place finish made this all that much sweeter,” he said.

To go to London, moreover, Ritzenhein not only needed to finish top-three but to meet the Olympic “A” standard qualifying time — 27:45. He did so by roughly 10 seconds.

Coming down the final stretch, figuring he had third-place locked and also knowing he was going to beat 27:45, Ritzenhein said, “That’s what make it all worth it.”

The American distance running community is filled passionate, keenly analytical people. To say they have been waiting, and waiting — and waiting — for someone to come along and win an Olympic medal would be a gentle understatement.

There is analysis of — well, almost everything. One of the best track and field writers out there, Ken Goe of the Oregonian, wrote a lengthy article this week that described how Rupp’s coach (Ritzenhein’s, too), famed 1980s marathoner Alberto Salazar, made some “big changes” to Rupp’s upper body mechanics to help him “be more loose and relaxed while racing.”

“We made a huge, huge jump over 10 days. The change is amazing,” Salazar said.

Rupp, late Friday, laughed. “I think I’m just running taller.”

Everyone understands that Rupp holds enormous potential.

He finished 13th in the 10k in his first Olympics, in Beijing. Last year, at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, he finished seventh.

For Rupp and for Salazar, if not for their critics, that’s progress.

Late last summer, Rupp ran a 26:48 10k at a race in Belgium. That’s the American record in the event.

Along with Ritzenhein, Rupp trains here in Oregon with Mo Farah, the British runner who in Daegu won the 5k and took second in the 10k. Farah is expected to be a major medal contender at the London Games.

The rain Friday? “It is what it is,” he said. “You’re still going to go out and compete, get the job done.”

Rupp will run again here, in the 5k.

And then, in London. For sure in one race, maybe two.

“I don’t know if it’s my time,” he said, then added with the maturity of a runner who knows that it might well be, “I hope to just be in the mix. You hope to be there with a lap to go. At that point, it’s anybody’s race. At that point, you give it all you’ve got. You just want to be there at the finish.”

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