Lessons in perseverance – the Olympic Trials 10,000 meter races (Part 1)
Almost lost in the drama of a new world record in the decathlon and a tie for third place in the women’s 100 meters were two compelling Olympic Trials 10,000 meter races on Friday, June 22. In the end, both races can be seen as lessons in perseverance, but I am getting ahead of myself. First the race re-caps.
The men’s 10,000 meter race included eight runners with the Olympic A standard (Galen Rupp, Robert Curtis, Tim Nelson, Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Derrick, Brent Vaughn, Ben True, and Joseph Chirlee). These eight runners probably wanted a slower paced race to keep anyone else from achieving the A standard. The other sixteen runners in the race, if they wanted to qualify for the London Olympics, had to not only place in the top three but also run under 27:45. Included in this group was two-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein. Ritz was a 2004 Olympian in the 10,000 and a 2008 Olympian in the marathon. But at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston last January, he placed fourth, which left him off the marathon Olympic team. His only hope for a third Olympics would be the 10,000 meters, a race he still needed an A standard in.
Before the race I figured there were three possible scenarios for Ritz:
Scenario 1 – Ritz goes out on A pace alone and tries to run 27:45 all by himself. Pacing and leading a race for twenty-five laps is a pretty daunting feat. On June 9 at the Portland Track Festival he ran a 5000/5000 double in 13:19 and 13:58 with only a thirty minute rest between efforts, perhaps to practice running alone?
Scenario 2 – Ritz and some of the other runners without the A standard make an agreement before the race to take turns pacing so that they all have a shot at running under 27:45. To me this makes the most sense but it rarely happens and I don’t know why. It seems that runners without the A standard should band together to go for it. This is the Olympic Trials. Why not throw caution to the wind and go for a 27:45 rather than run conservatively and stay in the main pack?
Scenario 3 – Ritz’s teammate Galen Rupp will set a pace to help Ritz get the A standard. This would be a logical thing to happen since they are both coached by Alberto Salazar and train together all the time. However the precedent did not suggest this would happen. One, rarely have I seen Rupp take any risks, such as setting the early race pace, that could affect his own qualifying. Also, in 2008 Salazar coached runners Kara Goucher and Amy Yoder-Begley. Goucher did not work to help Yoder-Begley get the A standard (in the end Yoder-Begley got the A standard by running a hard last 5000 meters by herself).
With a steady rain falling on the runners, the gun went off to start the men’s 10,000 meters. Immediately we knew which scenario was taking place. Rupp sprinted to the front and Ritz settled in behind him. Rupp was going to help Ritz – scenario 3 was underway. After 64 for the first lap they settled into a metronome like pace with every lap falling between 66 and 67. Rupp led for two laps, and then Ritz led for two laps. Oregon’s Luke Pusekdra led laps five and six. Then it was Rupp for two more laps and then Ritz for two more laps. Although he said later he was not trying to help with the pacing, Puskedra made his way back towards the front of the pack for laps eleven and twelve. Ritz led the next mile and the splits suggested that, barring a total collapse, they were going to get the A standard.
With nine laps to go, Rupp dropped a 63 second lap and only Ritz and Tegenkamp went with this pace. Suddenly the three with the most experience (Rupp, Ritz, and Teg) were clear of the field. Derrick and Aaron Braun (who did not have the A standard) were ten to fifteen meters back in the chase pack. The drama was essentially gone. Rupp, Teg, and Ritz would easily hold on to the top three spots and secure their spots to London. Some would later criticize Teg for not sharing the pacing duties, instead just hanging off of the work done by Rupp and Ritz, but that’s the sport. Teg’s job was to get himself on to the Olympic team, not to help Ritz get on the Olympic team. In hindsight it wasn’t a surprise who the three that qualified were. Rupp (PR 12:58.90), Teg (PR 12:58.56), and Ritz (PR 12:56.27) are three of six men in US history to break 13 minutes in the 5000. Talent-wise, they were the class of the field.
To be continued in Part 2.