ATLANTA – Galen Rupp, Aliphine Tuliamuk and America’s other top distance runners have claimed their spots on the U.S. Olympic marathon team.
That’s only half the battle. Now they have to wait to see if the Tokyo Games will be held.
Rupp reclaimed his status as the nation’s top distance runner Saturday, winning his second straight U.S. marathon trials and earning a spot for an Olympics shadowed by a global virus.
“I’ve always been someone who says you can control what you can control,” Rupp said, adding the impact of the coronavirus on the Olympics is “a decision that’s way above myself.
“I’ll let the proper authorities or governing bodies deal with that when it comes. Right now I think all of us are just real excited to make the team and be representing Team USA.”
The trials were run amid the uncertainty about the Olympics. IOC member Dick Pound said this week there is a window of two to three months to decide if conditions are too dangerous to hold the Olympics in Tokyo.
Rupp pulled away in the final miles for a dominant victory. Carrying a U.S. flag in his right hand, Rupp was all alone as he crossed the finish line, almost 43 seconds ahead of Jacob Riley. Abdi Abdirahman also earned a spot on the U.S. team by finishing third.
Tuliamuk edged Molly Seidel by seven seconds in the closest women’s finish in the trials. Seidel became the first woman to make the U.S. Olympics team while running in her first marathon. Sally Kipyego was third.
Tuliamuk and Kipyego are from Kenya and have become U.S. citizens. Kipyego won the silver medal in the 10,000-meters in 2012 for Kenya.
“It’s incredible, I feel relief almost more than anything,” said Rupp, who completed his comeback from heel surgery.
Rupp, Riley and Abdirahman wore versions of Nike’s shoes featuring carbon-fiber plates for more spring and propulsion. As some have criticized the shoes for providing an unfair advantage, other manufacturers have rushed out new shoes with similar technology.
“I would prefer not to think that my presence on this team is due to having a better shoe,” Riley said. “I would think it’s my training and I know I’m coming into this in better shape than I ever have.
“Also I don’t think it is the huge performance advantage it is being made out to be, but I also think there’s no question that plated shoes are changing the face of the game. “
Added Rupp: “You can’t just put those shoes on anybody and it turns them into Superman.”
The 33-year-old Rupp qualified for his fourth Olympics with a winning time of 2:09:20. He won the bronze medal in the marathon at the 2016 Rio Games. Rupp had not completed a marathon since 2018, thanks to heel surgery.
Rupp earned the win with his new coach, Mike Smith, after former coach Alberto Salazar received a four-year doping ban in 2019.
Rupp said Smith helped him prepare “for any scenario” in the race — including Brian Shrader breaking out early as the rabbit. Shrader set the men’s pace for much of the first half of the race but dropped out soon after he was passed by Rupp and others on the 16th mile.
“I just really tried to relax,” Rupp said. “Obviously it’s a little unnerving when you see somebody take off or get a big gap. … I just kept trying to tell myself ‘you’re as strong as you can be. You’re strength is always at the last part of the race.”
He’s only the second man, after Frank Shorter in 1972 and 1976, to win two U.S. trials. Shorter tied for the 1972 win with Kenny Moore.
Riley is a first-time Olympian. The 43-year-old Abdirahman became a five-time Olympian and the oldest man to make the U.S. marathon team. He finished third in the 2012 trials but missed the 2016 trials with a calf injury.
The Olympic marathon is to be held in Sapporo, more than 500 miles from Tokyo. The event was moved to protect runners from the heat in the capital.
Heat was no issue Saturday in Atlanta. Brisk winds made the temperature of 48 degrees at the race start feel more like 41. The chilly day was ideal for distance runners, but the city’s 26.2-mile course, with combined uphill climbs of 1,389 feet, posed a challenge.
“The course was hard,” Tuliamuk said. “It was windy and there were so many hills.”
More than 700 runners qualified for the trials. The women’s field was twice as large as the one in 2016, when Amy Cragg was the winner. Cragg withdrew last week because of illness. Parker Stinson withdrew from the men’s field because of injuries.
The course took the runners past the Olympic cauldron used for the Atlanta Games. The cauldron was lit Saturday for the first time since boxing great Muhammad Ali lowered the torch during the opening ceremony in 1996.