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Olympic Preview: Women’s 10,000 / Men’s 10,000 / Women’ 5000 / Men’s 5000

During the post-race press conference that followed the United States Olympic Marathon Trials in January, Ryan Hall, fresh off his second place finish which placed him on the team, was asked to speculate on the USA’s chances to win an Olympic medal in the men’s marathon. Reflecting on the impressive performances posted by any number of Kenyans and Ethiopians, Hall candidly offered, “Anything is possible, but we might have to be touched by the hand of God.” The prospects for an American man or woman to win a medal of any color at the London Games in either the 10,000 or the 5,000 may be less bleak, but divine intervention may still be required.

It is unclear whether or not America’s Olympic distance hopefuls will receive any heavenly assistance, but here is an unvarnished assessment of Team USA’s chances in these events.

Women’s 10,000

When you realize that the American women who will run in Olympic 10,000 finished 1st, 4th, and 7th in the Olympic Trials 10,000 final, you properly conclude that the USA is not putting its best athletes on the London starting line. America’s two premier 10K women – Shalane Flanagan (10,000 bronze medalist in the ’08 Games who finished third in the Trials 10,000) and Kara Goucher (10,000 bronze medalist in the ’07 World Championships who skipped the OT 10,000) – will both be focusing on the Olympic marathon.

Amy Hastings is likely to be America’s strongest competitor in the women’s 10,000. Part of the Mammoth Lakes running squad coached by Terrence Mahon, Hastings is a tough and fearless runner with a 10,000 PR of 31:19. Earlier this year, Hastings finished a heart-breaking fourth in the Olympic Marathon Trials – just missing a spot on the Olympic team. Ro-focused and determined, she came back to register a redeeming win in the Trials 10,000 which featured a punishing kick over the final 200 meters. She will need a career performance in London to gain a podium position.

Lisa Uhl is a young up-and-coming distance runner who is showing much promise. The 2010 NCAA
10,000 meter champion while an undergraduate at Iowa State University, Uhl has a 10,000 personal best of 31:35. She is not afraid to compete with America’s top distance runners – a racing style she employed at the Trials where, in it until the final push over the last 300 meters, she finished 4th. She may have the potential to win an Olympic medal – but not in the London Games.

Janet Charobon-Bawcom has displayed some promise, but lacks experience and has been inconsistent. Her Olympic “A” standard 10,000 mark of 31:33 allows her to participate in the 30th Olympiad even though she competed poorly in the Trials 10,000 where she finished 7th. Her 5th place performance at the Olympic Marathon Trials earlier this year – where her 2:29:45 clocking placed her ahead of Olympic marathon medalist Deena Kastor – suggests, at age 35, her future may be brighter in the longer event.

Outlook: Here’s a reality check: earlier this year, Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba – “The Baby-Faced Destroyer” - posted a world-leading time of 30:24. – a minute or so faster than the American athletes. And while it is true that Olympic distance races are often tactical affairs, none of the American competitors have displayed the type of lethal finishing kick that might position them to compete for a medal off a slower pace.

Men’s 10,000

USA prospects look more encouraging here. America’s three 10K men have meaningful international experience which should serve them well.

Galen Rupp, under the careful tutelage of Alberto Salazar, has developed into an authentic, international distance star. Any lingering doubts with respect to his finishing leg speed over the final circuit may have been largely dispelled in the wake of his dramatic Olympic Trials 5000 meter win over long-time nemesis and legendary kicker Bernard Lagat. Rupp’s 5000 victory allowed him to complete an extremely rare 5000 / 10,000 double win – last completed 60 years ago at the ’52 Trials by Curt Stone. It is true that 11 Africans – including defending Olympic 10,000 champion Kenesia Bekele – have 2012 marks between 27:00 and 27:10. But Rupp ran 26:48 at season’s end in 2011 and should be ready to do battle in London. A medal-winning performance by Rupp is now considered to be a distinct possibility by a growing number of respected track observers.

Matt Tegenkamp has meaningful prior experience on the world stage. He has competed in two world championships and made the Olympic 5000 meter final at the 2008 Olympic Games. With a sub-13:00 PR in the 5000, some would argue that Tegenkamp might be running in the wrong event. Runner-up to Rupp in the Trials 10,000, this multiple-time national champion and American record holder in the two mile [8:07.07] will have to run better than his current 10,000 PR [27:28.22 set last year] if he wants to be anywhere near the warring medal aspirants in the Olympic 10,000 final.

Dathan Ritzenhein was another wonderful story of redemption in the Olympic Trials 10,000 race. Having finished 4th – only 8 seconds away from the final Olympic team position – in January’s Olympic Marathon Trials, Ritz re-grouped and went back to the track to re-tool himself for the 10,000.
Lacking the “A” standard going into the Trials, Ritz worked with Rupp to keep the 10,000 final cadence at “A” standard quality. It paid off. Ritzenhein’s third-place finish time of 27:36.09 bettered the “A” standard [27:45] and placed him on his third Olympic team. His 10,000 PR of 27:22, set three years ago, promotes bona fide speculation as to how competitive Ritz can be in the Olympic 10,000 final.

Outlook: Rupp should compete for a medal. Toughened over several years of international racing, he should be poised to run his best at the 30th Olympiad. His newly-displayed finishing speed will need to be with him in London to earn a 10,000 medal.

Women’s 5000

Julie Culley, surprise winner of the Olympic Trials 5000, will lead a young American trio in the women’s 5000. The 30 year-old Rutgers graduate has a surprising amount of international experience, having competed on USA teams at the 2009 world cross country championships and in the 5000 at the 2009 world track and field championships. Her OT winning time of 15:13.77 is her personal best.

Molly Huddle, runner-up to Culley in the Trials 5000, may prove to the United States’ best hope in the women’s 5000. Holder of the U.S. 5000 record at 14:44.76, Huddle may be the only American woman who is able keep pace with the superior African athletes. The Notre Dame graduate has international experience – she ran the 5000 for the U.S. at the 2011 world championships – but no proven success on big world stages.

Kim Conley grabbed the final Olympic 5000 spot at the Trials when, 50 meters down at the bell lap, she unleashed a furious finish to catch a wobbly Jessica Lucas at the line. Conley’s third-place time of 15:19.79, a personal best, edged Lucas by only 0.04 seconds and allowed her to achieve the requisite “A” standard time she lacked by a mere 0.21 seconds. The spunky, but inexperienced UC Davis product showed heart at the Trials, but it is difficult to see her being any sort of factor at the London Games.

Outlook: Huddle is the only one of the 3 American Olympic 5000 runners with a PR time under 15:00. 13 different African women have run under 15:00 this year – and 6 of them have posted 2012 marks under 14:45. Against that sobering reality, simply having an American woman make the Olympic 5000 final would be a notable achievement.

Men’s 5000

Galen Rupp is poised to be a medal threat in the Men’s 5000. While the 10,000 is unquestionably his stronger event, Rupp’s recent 12:58.90 PR – the third fastest 5000 time in the world this year – and his stirring stretch drive to defeat Bernard Lagat in the OT 5000 show he is ready to compete for a medal at this shorter distance. Alberto Salazar, Rupp’s savvy coach, is to be commended for having implemented a schedule of under-distance racing for Rupp which has sharpened his speed and toughened his racing spirit.

Bernard Lagat should never, ever be counted out. Even at age 37, Lagat still possesses one of the most ferocious finishing kicks in the sport. It is a weapon he uses not only to defeat his competition but also to silence the whisperers who say he is now too old. Only a very few distance runners have ever assembled the resume of career highlights that could compare with Lagat’s accomplishments: a bountiful record spanning the last decade that includes 8 national championship wins and 12 medals of all colors in international world and Olympic competition. The only piece missing to make his career complete: an Olympic gold medal. One thing is for sure: the crafty 5000 American record holder [12:53.60 set in 2011] will go after it in London.

Lopez Lomong, the USA flag-bearer at the Beijing Games, is on his second USA Olympic team. Moving up from the 1500, Lomong, at age 28, is poised to perform well in the 5000 in London. He moved smartly through the rounds and displayed great speed and effective racing tactics at the new, longer 5000 meter distance. Does Lomong – who has run 13:11.63 this year, but is capable of running faster – have the 5000 racing experience to handle the Olympics’ racing gamesmanship? A medal-winning performance by Lomong in London would not be shocking – and would simply be another amazing chapter in the incredible life of one the “Lost Boys Of Sudan.”

Outlook: The United States has not won an Olympic medal in the men’s 5000 since 1964 – when the US took both the gold and the bronze. Certainly Rupp and Lagat each have the capability to make it onto the podium. But will they be able to produce that medal-winning performance on London’s big stage? Stay tuned. 


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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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