I watched the Olympic Trials marathon on DVR, so I already knew who would win. And I fell asleep watching it. And so missed the apparent running exchange between Meb and Galen, because the younger runner was crowding the road like a track racer.
Which resulted in the older Meb schooling the younger Galen in the postrace press conference on the etiquettes of marathon racing. That led to Galen sitting there looking like he’d swallowed (and was trying to keep down) one of the rotting peace doves from the 1984 Olympics, held in Los Angeles, where Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar raced and did not succeed.
So there was a lot of American running “history,” both recent and past, on display during the competition. And the words exchanged afterwards.
Meb’s a great runner. He’s an experienced runner. I’ve written how his triumphs represent a new America that makes some people uncomfortable. He’s an adopted American. And he’s distinctly not white. So some think that disqualifies him from full admiration.
Rupp is a home country product. A lean white boy with a mean coach noted in his competitive days to be austere and aloof. Recently Alberto Salazar has come under scrutiny for coaching practices some considerable unethical.
After the marathon former Salazar protege Kara Goucher let loose a string of invectives when talking about the investigations into Salazar’s “methods” which may or may not involve doping. As we learned from the Lance Armstrong story, there’s often fire where there is smoke. So we’ll see if the man’s reputation goes up in flames.
There’s money behind it, with the big juggernaut Nike funding this and that in an attempt to win converts to the brand. Meanwhile Meb runs in Skechers, a brand of running shoes that evolved from the skateboarding world. Like I said, Meb represents the New America that does not necessarily care about legacies. It cares about likeability. And Meb is likable.
We’ve all worked with people who resemble Meb and Galen. At times, it seems unfair that the likable guy or gal gets promoted. They may not be the stellar employee, but threy’re likable. Sometimes corporations prefer that in their leadership.
But sometimes corporations promote people wired like Galen Rupp. They excel at what they do. And if those people happen to rub you the wrong way in a meeting, as Rupp did to Meb on the marathon course, so what? They’re a producer. A rainmaker.
Company we keep
The world of distance running is no different than any company in the world. It’s still a business out there. People are trying to make a living and there are conflicts. 40 years ago people weren’t allowed to make a living at the sport of running. They were owned by the amateur associations and their rules against “professional” behavior.
That’s what men like Steve Prefontaine, Frank Shorter and others fought to change. The result is that people are now free to make a living as professional runners.
That doesn’t make it any easier. And when the stakes are high, as they are with an Olympic Trials marathon, there are endorsements and a chance for Olympic glory on the line. Things are bound to get chippy.
Sometimes that means the nice guys triumph. But you also have to accept that sometimes the pricks will win.
I specifically recall the moment a competitor in our college cross country conference finally won the meet after years of dominance by our school. Following his victory, he used the podium to speak a diatribe against the program that, in essence, gave him motivation to get better. It was ironic and somewhat classless.
He went on to become an All-American. He was a great runner. But he was also a bit of a conservatively bitter little prick.
It’s the American Way. You can’t always choose the character of the winners. In some ways, you can’t even hope to change it when they do win.
That only happens through losing. Because it seems the only way to gain a share of humility is to have it thrown in your face. Ground into your back. Or forced upon you in some other way.
Frankly, if Rupp were to go on to win the Olympics in the marathon, and that’s a long shot, he’d more like be in the company of more Rupp-style runners. Meb is no slouch. His best times (according to Wikipedia) for some standard distances are 3:42.29 for 1500 m (not real fast) set in 1998; 13:11.77 for 5000m (good but not great) set in 2000; 27:13.98 for 10,000 m (world class but the world record is in the mid 26’s) set in 2001 (although an American record which stood until 2010? I question this…); and 2:08:37 for the marathon, set at the 2014 Boston Marathon.
Rupp’s times are somewhat better. PR: 1,500m – 3:34.75 (2012); Mile – 3:50.92i (2013); 3,000m – 7:30.16i (2013 AR); 5,000m – 12:58.90 (2012); 10,000m – 26:48.00AR (2011)And Rupp is the silver medalist behind the amazing Mo Farah at the last World Championships.
So it’s a classic American tale of competition at “the office” as to who will succeed in Rio. Will it be Rupp, the determined protege of Salazar? Or will it be Meb, the people’s apparent favorite.
I hope I don’t fall asleep. It will be interesting to see if these two teammates can work it all out on behalf of America.
Today’s blog: Compete Well.