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PRE CLASSIC - Flawless Harrison Leaves Hayward with an American Record
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Time to Give It Up for Alberto Salazar: His Long Range Plan to Revitalize American Distance Running Has Been Brilliantly Executed
By Steve Ritchie
August 4, 2012

Galen Rupp
Salem, OR - One of the greatest Olympic 10K Finals in history brought gold to Mo Farah, silver to Galen Rupp, and the best feeling ever to Alberto Salazar.

"It was overwhelming, it is the greatest feeling perhaps that I've ever had, even greater than anything I ever did in my athletic career," Salazar said, as quoted by USA Track and Field. "Other than getting married and my kids' births, I would say this is the best feeling I've ever had in my life."

This is a day that Salazar has been pointing to for a long time. A very long time.

In 2003 Paul Gains of the NY Times wrote an article on Salazar's vision of elevating American distance running. Headlined "Cause for Optimism," a link to the article was posted earlier this month on
www.letsrun.com. (The full article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com.)

The article's lead says "American men will one day challenge the world's best distance runners and end the United States' medal drought in distance running, says Alberto Salazar, a three-time winner of the New York City Marathon."

A couple years earlier, Salazar had begun to coach Rupp, who was then a promising sophomore at Central Catholic High School. Rupp, 17 at the time the article was written, was already being touted by Salazar as youngster who could one day challenge the East Africans, who have dominated distance running for more than 30 years.

Salazar said he was encouraged by the improved performances he was seeing then at the high school level, by Rupp and many others. But, the article makes clear, that even then, Salazar was not interested in a quick fix. To do the job right, he knew it would take years of patient work.

"The East Africans start running at a young age, often going to school on foot," Salazar tells Gains. "A lot of distance running is just adaptation to the ever-increasing workload. So these kids, by the time they are in high school, have built up to where they are running 10 miles a day. They have done that over years and years until they are 16. But if you take an American kid who is starting out you aren't going to go from zero to 80 miles a week, so we have to built them up slowly."

Salazar has done just that with Rupp. Year after year, through high school, then college - when Salazar continued to coach Rupp, who ran for Oregon - and his three post-college years, Rupp has improved steadily. Unlike his coach and mentor, Rupp has never suffered an injury that kept him from running for an extended period. He continued to steadily build his mileage in a reasonable way. He benefited tremendously from working with the same coach over this entire period.

He also worked at helping Rupp develop a finishing kick. The lack of a devastating, or even strong, kick was the one weakness that was identified early on, and for years Rupp and Salazar have both talked about how they were working on his speed at the end of races. It didn't come quickly, but it is here now.

At the end of the Olympic 10K, which was marked by a relatively slow first 5K, and then a much quicker final 5K, Rupp closed with a 53.6 last 400 (according to my watch). Farah was slightly faster, but none of the other top contenders were. Just as we saw at the Trials, Rupp can now medal - and perhaps win - if he is in the race with 400 to go.

Salazar also had the foresight to bring in Mo Farah in as Rupp's training partner, and was fortunate that the pair also became close friends with a genuine affection for each other. You could see that after the race. In his comments to the media following the race, Rupp acknowledged how much Farah has meant to his development.

"I'm thrilled for Mo," Rupp said. "It's unreal. Two training partners coming in first and second. I couldn't be happier. I wouldn't be where I am today without him. I'm the lucky one - I get to train with the best middle distance runner in the world."

What we need to see is whether the Galen Rupp-Alberto Salazar story can be duplicated by others. Is this a unique set of circumstances, in which one of the most talented coaches in the world starts working with a very promising 15-year-old, and backed by the resources of Nike and the lore of Oregon distance running and a gold medalist for a training partner in Farah, they stay together for more than a decade and show what is possible.

How likely is that story to play out with other coaches and athletes? Could something similar happen in just a few days with young steepler Evan Jager, coached by Portland-based Jerry Schumacher? If Jager can break through in the steeplechase, which has been totally dominated by Kenyans for years, then maybe it's a trend.

We don't know just yet.

But, thanks to Salazar and Rupp, we now know it is possible.

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