When your biggest achievement to date is an Olympic silver medal, there’s only one logical goal to aim for: go one better. “At some point I would like to know that I’m the best in the world,” says the soft-spoken Galen Rupp.
“I came pretty close last summer but I’m still not there yet,” he says with a mild giggle. “And if I do it this year at the World Championships or another year then we’ll see. If I can be that for one season or multiple seasons, who knows, but at some point I just want to be able to say that I’m the best in the world.”
That’s about as brash as Rupp gets. He’s a low-key, modest man that hasn’t been drawn into the hype that surrounds him. The hype is justified of course and not just because of his performance at the London Olympics.
He’s coming out of an indoor season with a 3:50:92 mile and an American indoor record in the 3000m. His time of 7:30:16 was set in Stockholm and incidentally, the Swedish word for ‘crazy’ is ‘galen’. The local journalists weren’t slow in using the pun as Rupp-fever took over the Swedish capital.
The 2013 indoor season ended with Rupp being the fastest man in the world over 1500m, the Mile and the 3000m. In the latter event, only one American – three-time World indoor champion Bernard Lagat – has ever run faster. And that was outdoors.
From junior record-breaker to Olympic silver medallist
Rupp’s first big achievements of note came during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, when he broke the American junior records in the 3000m (7:49.16), 5000m (13:37.91) and 10,000m (28:15.52). His times may have been slower than his African contemporaries, but Rupp gradually chipped away at his PBs, refusing to be swept up in the hype from enthusiastic American distance-running fans.
His international senior debut came at the 2007 World Championships where he finished 11th in the 10,000m. The following year he made his Olympic debut in the same event, placing 13th in Beijing. He improved to eighth at the 2009 World Championships, then doubled up two years later in Daegu, finishing ninth in the 5000m and seventh in the 10,000m.
That same year he broke the American records for the 10,000m (26:48.00) and indoor 5000m (13:11.44). But he wasn’t done improving, and in 2012 he broke 13 minutes for 5000m for the first time with his 12:58.90 clocking in Eugene before taking Olympic 10,000m silver in London and following it with a seventh-place finish in the 5000m.
Salazar’s steady approach
But Rupp, after more than 10 years under the tutelage of Alberto Salazar, is used to playing it calm and not getting carried away with recent successes. Throughout his career, Rupp has – sometimes with frustration – always increased his load in small increments.
“I have been really fortunate to be under the guidance of Alberto because he’s always preached about taking a long-term approach to my training. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to have consistent improvement and we’ve always adjusted things slowly and that’s either been more distance or more intensity.”
It is why Rupp won’t be drawn into staking any major claims for what he hopes to achieve this year. It’s all about the slow increments. Rupp – “if I’m healthy” – will pursue both the 5000m and 10,000m in Moscow. Winning is certainly what he wants to do but he’s got competition.
Farah, the friend and rival
His most challenging adversary is his training partner, friend and the man that finished one place ahead of him at the London Olympics, Britain’s Mo Farah. Rupp and Farah train together under Salazar and are carrying out the majority of their sessions together.
So, the question is: can Galen Rupp overcome the psychological and physical barriers to beat the athlete he clearly admires?
“He’s such a great guy,” says Rupp about Farah. “Honestly, he’s one of my best friends. I understand that people will always talk to me about Mo. It comes with the territory.
“Obviously I would like to beat him eventually but that’s not my main goal. We’re going to do what we can to beat everyone else and then we worry about the rest. It’s a huge advantage to be able to train together.”
Unfinished business on the track
Farah appears to have his sights on longer distances after the recent announcement that he will run the first half of the London Marathon. Rupp, however, feels he has more to accomplish on the track.
“It’s hard to come back from the Marathon,” says Rupp. “I definitely want to run one but probably not until after the next Olympic cycle.”
Given Rupp’s indoor season, staying on the track is probably a good idea. He also admits to hating tempo runs “with a passion” but loving 200m and 400m interval workouts, so he’s clearly fond of the tartan for the moment.
Assuming he stays injury-free, Rupp has to be one of the main contenders going into Moscow. The fulfilment of his lifetime goal – to be world No.1 – could be just a matter of months away.
Colm O'Callaghan for the IAAF