ATLANTA (Reuters) – Galen Rupp powered his way to his second consecutive U.S. Olympic marathon trials victory as the 2016 Rio Games bronze medalist showed he is fully recovered from 2018 Achilles surgery on Saturday.
The 33-year-old dominated the final 11 miles as he won in two hours, nine minutes and 20 seconds in chilly, windy conditions on a hilly downtown Atlanta course.
“It’s incredible,” Rupp told NBC Sports. “I feel relief almost more than anything. It’s been a really long year and a half, but I can’t tell you how happy I am….
“You always focus on the things you can do, not the things that you can’t do, and that’s the approach I took.”
There were lots of surprises behind him.
Jake Riley, who also came back to the sport after undergoing Achilles surgery in 2018, claimed second in a personal best 2:10.02 with 43-year-old Somalian-born Abdi Abdirahman stunningly third just a second adrift from Riley as they made the American team for the Tokyo Olympics.
In a much closer women’s race, Kenyan-born American Aliphine Tuliamuk, 30, won in 2:27:23 with 25-year-old Molly Seidel eight seconds behind in her first marathon.
Sally Kipyego, the Kenyan 2012 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist and now a U.S. citizen, realized her dream of making another Games as the 34-year-old took third in 2:28:52 as she edged out former Boston Marathon winner Des Linden (2:29:03).
Rupp, who dropped out of the 2019 Chicago marathon with a calf strain, bid his time in the men’s race as Brian Shrader led for more than half the race before retiring by the 17th mile.
Then it became a race for second as the 32-year-old Riley, who was 15th in the 2016 marathon trials, overcame Abdirahman.
“I have been visualizing this moment for the last five years,” said Riley.
With the coronavirus outbreak stoking concerns for July’s Tokyo Olympics, Riley said he would be disappointed if the Games were canceled, but added it’s not “worth risking people’s lives to have a sporting event”.
Abdirahman agreed but said he believed “for them to cancel the Olympics in Tokyo, it would have to be something really big and people’s lives are in danger”.
International Olympic Committee officials have said they are fully committed to holding the Olympics on schedule despite the outbreak.
While the Games will be Riley’s first, Abdirahman made his fifth Olympics. He has made the U.S. team in the 10,000m three times and the marathon once.
All three of the men’s qualifiers wore Nike’s much-discussed carbon-plated shoes.
Tuliamuk was the unexpected winner in the women’s race as favorites Linden, Jordan Hasay, Emily Sisson and Sara Hall failed to make the team.
“I still don’t believe it happened,” Tuliamuk said. “When Molly and I broke away, for a second I thought:‘Maybe we might be in trouble.’”
“We had six miles, and the last four miles of this course was really hard.”
Seidel, a former collegiate 10,000m runner, could barely believe her success.
“Seven month ago I ran Peachtree (road race) here and busted my hip and was on crutches for two weeks.
“I’m still in shock.”
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina, Additional reporting by Amy Tennery in Atlanta; editing by Tony Lawrence)