"Go, Galen! Go!"
The Olympics often stir a patriotic fervor, an unabashed, biased rooting. But this was more. So much more. This was history.
Saturday night in London, and Olympic Stadium roaring, rocking. After 24 grueling laps, almost six miles of running, the bell clanged.
Barely discernable above the crowd’s frenzy, it signaled that the runners in the men’s 10,000 meter run had but one lap to go. The source of the crowd’s immense excitement, Great Britain’s own Mo Farah, had just taken the lead.
Hot on his heels were two Ethiopians, two brothers, one of whom — Kenenisa Bekele, holds the world record and won the last two Olympic 10ks.
A third win would move him past double-winners Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Lasse Viren, and Haile Gebrselassie into a class by himself.
And going with them, staying with them, keeping pace, the fourth member of the lead group, Galen Rupp.
How rare was this sight? Try this: they’ve run the men’s 10k in the Olympics since 1912. Over that century, Americans had won exactly two medals. One came in the initial race, when Louis Tewanima won the silver.
In 1964, in one of the most memorable races in Olympic history, Billy Mills took the lead entering the final lap, fell into third place, and somehow summoned a sprint down the homestretch to win.
In the 48 years since Mills outran Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia and Ron Clarke of Australia in Olympic record time, no American has won a medal in this event.
In fact, since 1988, not a single 10k medal was awarded to an athlete not born in Africa.
Even Farah was born in Africa. His family moved from Somalia to London in 1991, when Farah was eight. For the past five years, he’s trained in America.
And for the past 18 months, he’s trained with marathon legend Alberto Salazar as part of the Nike Oregon Project. There, he became teammates with Galen Rupp. Rupp has trained with Salazar for 12 years, since he was 14. He overcame an initial reluctance about training with Farah to bond over a mutual love of soccer. Once the friendship became cemented, the running became easier.
"Two great athletes. Best of friends," Salazar told Pat Graham of the Washington Times. "They are great training partners for each other and they will do anything for each other."
It was Farah, after finishing second, who picked up Rupp a year ago at the World Championships. Rupp kept himself in position the entire race, but when sprint time came, he couldn’t keep pace.
"I was disappointed after finishing seventh and I was hoping to finish a lot higher," Rupp told Joe Battaglia of nbcolympics.com. "I remember Mo came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Look, it just comes with experience sometimes. You’ve got to be in these big races over and over again.’
"He was finishing sixth, seventh, eighth a lot and then, all of a sudden, you get that breakthrough if you keep training hard and sticking to it. He assured me it would come."
Rupp showed us how hard he had worked on his finishing kick at the US Olympic Trials. He won the 5000 by out-kicking one of the best closers in track history, Bernard Lagat. In the process, he broke Steve Prefontaine’s trials record, set in 1972.
Now, with just half a lap remaining in the 10K, and his training partner leading the field in full flight around the final turn, Rupp set sail.
"I was cognizant of where he was," Rupp told Graham. "It’s really comforting having a training partner in there. At the end, it almost felt like practice!"
He burst off the turn, passing the Bekele brothers, and tore down the stretch — still in full sprint.
"I couldn’t believe it coming down the stretch," Rupp told Battaglia. "With 50 to go I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God! Just hold your form and keep driving because you never know what is going to happen!’ I was just pushing toward the finish line and trying to stay with Mo. I knew that if I could keep close to him, good things would happen!"
At that point, Rupp didn’t need any more urgency. He crossed the line with a yell, silver medal won. His coach to put his achievement into perspective.
"For 20 years now, American kids, white or black, believed they had no chance in distance running if they’re not of East African descent," Salazar told David Leon Moore of the USA Today. "Up until now they have not believed that Americans could compete with East Africans."
They can believe it now.