When Mo Farah crossed the finish line on Saturday to win the Olympic gold medal at 10,000 meters in 27:30.42, he flung his arms straight out and screamed with joy. Then he quickly got back to business, turning around in time to see his Oregon Project teammate Galen Rupp coming in right behind him, in 27:30.90.
With a child-like look of delight, Rupp, 26, rushed straight toward Farah, 29. They shared an embrace, of each other and of the history they had just made together: the first Olympic gold medal at 10,000 meters in Great Britain history and the first U.S. men’s medal at the distance since Billy Mills won gold in 1964.
Winning the bronze medal was 25-year-old Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia, in 27:31.43. He was followed by his older brother, Kenenisa Bekele, who finished fourth in 27:32.44. The elder Bekele, now 30, came into the race as the two-time defending Olympic champion.
“It’s weird seeing Great Britain and USA in the medals,” said Rupp at the post-race press conference. “To be first and second with my training partner and one of my best friends, I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
Neither could Farah, who moved to Great Britain from Somalia as an 8-year-old and grew up not far from the site of Olympic Stadium.
“The crowd was getting louder and louder,” he said, of the reaction after he moved toward the front with 1000 meters remaining and then took the lead with 600 meters to go. “I had to work hard in the home straight and when I crossed the line I just thought, ‘did that really happen?’”
Farah and Rupp train together under Alberto Salazar, the former marathon world record-holder and two-time winner of the New York City Marathon. Salazar has been coaching Rupp since the athlete was in high school; Farah joined the group in the winter of 2011. In one of their first major competitions after Farah arrived, he won the NYC Half 2011, with Rupp finishing third in his debut at the distance.
The two became fast friends, in every sense of the word, bringing to life Salazar’s dream of putting Americans back on the distance podium at major international competitions.
Even during the race, as the African runners threw in repeated surges, the Somalia-born Brit to whom Rupp refers as a “big brother” was looking out for his serendipitous sibling.
"I was starting to get antsy and he tapped me on the shoulder and told me 'play it cool and save everything for the final lap,’ Rupp said. “I owe a lot to him. I'm definitely the beneficiary of our relationship. There have been ups and downs and he has always been there for me.”
After bottoming out at the turn of the century, U.S. distance running has been on the rise since Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor respectively won silver and bronze medals in the 2004 Olympic marathon. In 2007, Kara Goucher won bronze at 10,000 meters in the IAAF World Championships, and Shalane Flanagan followed that up with a 2008 Olympic bronze medal at the same distance. In 2011 Ryan Hall recorded the fastest marathon in history by an American, and Dathan Ritzenhein won a bronze medal in the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in 2009. And, of course, the Kenya-born Bernard Lagat has been on many podiums since first competing internationally as a U.S. citizen in 2007. Still, Rupp’s success in an event so dominated by Kenya, which before Saturday had won 10 of the last 12 Olympic medals available at 10,000 meters, is huge.
“It’s a night to build on forever,” said Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO on New York Road Runners. “In a stadium as electric as one can imagine, Mo and Galen continued to rewrite decades of history, showing American and British athletes what's possible.”
It was also a reminder to the U.S. on another front.
“Finally, the lesson of the week is how Great Britain has carried its athletes to new heights,” said Wittenberg. “So it’s time to get a USA Games going.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg