Galen Rupp, a prerace favorite on the men’s side and the 2016 Olympic marathon bronze medalist in Rio, proved he was healthy and still the top American marathoner by winning Saturday’s Olympic Trials in Atlanta.
His time of 2:09:20 was 42 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Jacob Riley (2:10:02). Abdi Abdirahman took third in 2:10:03, and the trio will represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.
At the halfway point of the race, Rupp was in a large chase pack about 50 seconds behind surprise leader Brian Shrader. It wasn’t long until Rupp was able to reel Shrader in just before mile 16 by clocking a 4:57 mile.
“I knew that everybody wasn’t just going to let someone run away for so long,” Rupp told reporters in the mixed zone. “It’s just about staying relaxed and running your race.”
At mile 20, Rupp started to break away from his competitors—citing “confidence in my ability to close in the marathon” with his speed over 10,000 meters—in an attempt to run toward his second Olympic Marathon Trials victory. In the process, Rupp negative split the race by running 1:05:41 for the first half and 1:03:39 for the remaining 13.1.
Rupp won the 2016 Trials in 2:11:13, more than a minute ahead of runner-up Meb Keflezighi.
“It’s incredible. I feel relief more than anything” Rupp told NBC after the race. “It’s been a really long year, but I thank God every day for getting to do what I love and getting to run every day.”
Four years ago in Los Angeles, Rupp ran his first marathon at the Trials and won the race in 2:11:13. By taking first again on Saturday, Rupp makes his fourth Olympic team. He finished 13th in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Games, and he won the silver medal in the 10,000 at the 2012 Games in London in addition to the Rio marathon bronze.
After the race, Rupp said that the 2016 and 2020 Marathon Trials were similar for him in a sense that both races held “unknowns.” The 2016 Trials was his first attempt at 26.2 while the 2020 Trials was his first completed marathon in a year and a half.
“This is the first marathon I’ve finished since my surgery, and there were a lot of unknowns for this one too,” he said. “I had a good training block, I did a lot of longer runs, and I had a lot of confidence that my leg would hold up, but until you’re in that situation, you never know... you never take it for granted.”
Ever since the bronze in Rio, Rupp’s marathon career has had major highs along with periods of low points.
But it has been nearly a year and half since Rupp, 33, completed a marathon race. He won the Mesa (Arizona) Half Marathon in 1:01:19 earlier in February as a tuneup, which was a positive sign after he dropped out of the 2019 Chicago Marathon in the 23rd mile.
“[The Chicago Marathon] was a good wake-up call for me in a lot of ways,” Rupp said. “You can’t just keep trying to push and limp through in anything, in running and in life. It’s all about moving forward and focusing on the things that you can control, what you can do to get better.”
After finishing fifth at the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp had major surgery on his left foot to repair a frayed Achilles tendon and a Haglund’s deformity, a bony protrusion on his heel. After Saturday’s race, Rupp said that he is at 90-95 percent.
“I’m on a great track right now. This was a really big race for me, and I’m just relieved to get it done and now I have several more months to keep getting stronger and get ready for the Olympics,” he said.
Rupp has also faced controversy after his longtime coach, Alberto Salazar, was suspended for four years for anti-doping violations, and the Nike Oregon Project, the training group Salazar headed that included Rupp, was disbanded in October.
To prepare for the Trials, Rupp enlisted the help of Mike Smith, the men’s and women’s cross-country and track coach at Northern Arizona University.
When speaking with Runner’s World in January, Rupp indicated that despite the injuries and distractions, he felt ready for today’s race.
“I feel really good about the place I’m at right now and where my training is and where it’s headed,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go and give my best.”
Rupp won $80,000 for today’s victory.
—This story will be updated.
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