Tracktown, USA: Men’s 5K Preview, A Whole New World

by Chris McClung

The Basics

Before I dive into the 5K preview, I have to quickly recap some of the amazing stories from the first 4 days of the Trials. If you haven’t followed closely, check a few of these out:

Ok, on to the Men’s 5K…

The 5K preliminary rounds were completed last night, so we got a small glimpse into what the Final will look like on Thursday. The big story for the Men’s 5K is less about what might happen on Thursday and more about what might happen at the Olympics in London.

Assuming Thursday plays out as expected, the team we send to London will likely be the best men’s 5K team that has ever represented the US on the Olympic stage. Any one of the top US athletes has a legitimate chance to medal. And, it isn’t crazy to think that we could earn 2 medals in this event. Or, maybe it is crazy, crazy that we have come so far in this event. The last US medal in the 5K at the Olympics was in 1964.

Barring disaster, your Olympic team will come from the 4 remaining athletes in the field with the Olympic A standard – Galen Rupp, Bernard Lagat, Lopez Lomong, and Andrew Bumbalough. Of those 4 athletes, Rupp, Lagat, and Lomong are your clear favorites, but Bumbalough still has a legitimate, outside chance if one of those 3 falter.

Here are some of the stories:

Galen Rupp vs. Lagat? Changing of the Guard?

I profiled Rupp as the “Lebron James of Distance Running” in my 10K preview last week. One event that has always haunted him is the 5K, primarily because of Bernard Lagat. Lagat is a Kenyan-turned-US citizen and probably one of the greatest distance runners ever to race the 1500m or 5K. Rupp is 0 for 12 against Lagat, even though Lagat is now 37 years old. What has been missing… that finishing kick that I discussed in the 10K preview. But, now Rupp seems to have it, and Lagat perhaps has lost a little leg speed with age. Can this be lucky 13 for Rupp? Will Rupp push the pace early to take some of the kick out of Lagat’s legs? Does he have to? Will he wait and attempt to outkick Lagat and beat him at his own game?

Lopez Lomong: The Lost Boy

Lomong’s story seems like something out of a made-for-TV movie, but real life and more moving. He is already an Olympian from 2008 in the 1500m and famously carried the US flag for the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing, but his story starts well before that. He grew up in Sudan and was caught up in the Civil Wars there. He was abducted from his village to serve in the rebel armies at the age of 6. He went on to escape to Kenya where he lived in a refugee camp for 10 years before being adopted by a US family from New York state at the age of 16. He started his running career in high school here and went on to compete at the college level at Northern Arizona University. Now, he is seeking his second Olympic team in a new event – the 5K. He brings a strong aerobic base and a devastating finishing kick from his 1500m background. But, he is inexperienced at racing this distance. In his first 5K earlier this year, he kicked too early with 2 laps to go and pulled up at the line with 1 lap to go, thinking that he had won the race. He went on to resume running and ultimately still won the race, but clearly has a lot to learn. If Rupp and Lagat are your favorites, Lomong is a close 3rd but could surprise everyone and take the US title. Can he overcome his inexperience to beat the favorites?

Andrew Bumbalough: Odd man out?

It is no real surprise that he is competing at this level. Bumbalough is a six-time state champion from Tennessee, and he also won 3 Big East conference titles while running at Georgetown. He proved his fitness by edging Galen Rupp during Monday night’s preliminary round. The real drama is likely the rivalry between his Nike training group coached by Jerry Schumacher and Rupp’s Nike group coached by Alberto Salazar. If you saw the 5K preliminary round, then you saw Rupp snub him as he offered a handshake at the end of the race. There is no love lost between those two groups.

His real challenge though is determining what type of race to run in order to make the team. Given that he has the weakest kick of any of the favorites, he could choose to push earlier in the race and attempt to break the group. If he does that, however, it will cost extra energy and leave him vulnerable late in the race. But, if he doesn’t push, then he is likely a sitting duck as Rupp, Lomong, and Lagat unleash killer final laps. Is there a good strategy at all or is he resigned to finish in 4th place?

Ben True: Skier turned Runner

You will notice Ben by his larger frame and by his black and red Saucony singlet. Up until a few years ago, he considered himself more of a cross-country skier than a runner. Seeing more opportunities and potential in running, he dedicated himself to the sport full-time only 2 years ago. During his first year as a pro, he had a rocky start, adjusting to a new coach and enduring recovery from a broken toe. In his 2nd year, he started to see his aerobic base from skiing pay off and earned podium finishes at high profile 5Ks and 10 milers. His 5K PR of 13:26 puts him 6 seconds off of the A Standard. He will need to run 13:20 in the final in order to make the team, as well as finish in the top 3. We saw him work aggressively at the front during the 10K last Friday, and you can expect more aggressiveness in this final. He will need a miracle to make this team. Can he get it?

My prediction: This race will play out slowly at first since the favorites have no incentive to push the pace. But, expect the field to string out by 1 mile to go and watch Lomong, Rupp, and Lagat separate clearly by 2 laps to go. That will be your Olympic team, and in this order at the finish: 1. Lagat, 2. Lomong, 3. Rupp.

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