Marathon wait for Pac-12 Olympic marathoners
TOKYO – Well before COVID caused the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed for one year…well before the Tokyo organizers moved the endurance footraces to another island 500 miles north in search of cooler temperatures…even before the Games became a 19-day bonanza to ensure that all 339 medal events could be completed…the men’s Olympic marathon was always going to be a test of patience, because it traditionally starts on the last day of the Games.
This year, all three men representing the U.S. in the 26.2-mile race will be Pac-12 alumni: Galen Rupp (OREGON), Abdi Abdirahman (ARIZONA), and Jake Riley (STANFORD). Meet the team and find out how they’ve been biding their time before the 7 a.m. start on Sunday in Sapporo.
Jacob Riley ran track and cross country at Stanford, placed third in 10,000m at the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Championships. At Stanford, he was a biomechanical engineering major. This spring, he earned a Master’s degree from COLORADO in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in design. At 32, he is the lone Olympic rookie among the three. On Thursday, he gave us the lowdown.
“I flew in to Tokyo July 31, got to the Olympic Village at 5 p.m., did a shake out, got some food, and then flew to Sapporo the next day after a run. I don't have a roommate here, which is very nice, because these rooms are small. The beds are decent size but there are no closets – and they gave us a ton of [Olympic] stuff. I came over with one bag, and two more duffel bags were waiting when I got here.
“Every day, I get up, eat, and go to our training facility, which is the outdoor speed skating facility from the 1972 Winter Olympics. It’s a 1,000-meter asphalt loop, with a 450-meter asphalt inner loop. It’s the same place for everyone. They won't let go us anywhere else, just hotel, dining hall across the street, and the training facility. I do my own thing. I see the Brits and the Irish a lot. But like I never see, like, the Germans training. Everybody's got their own idea of what the optimal training time is. So I loop that for a while, come back, and eat lunch. Everybody eats in the same dining hall so we see each other at mealtimes. I ate with [U.S. women’s marathoner] Sally Kipyego the other night.
“I brought a Nintendo Switch with me so I play that a little bit. I get treatment. I eat some more. And then I go to bed. This is like recovery week so I sleep as long as I can. And I sit in my hotel room a lot.
“I did watch the men's 800, women's steeple, a couple of the 1500’s. I tune in, tune out. The Japanese channels have a lot of ping pong and volleyball. I just put it on in the background. I spend a lot of my time trying NOT to think about the race because I know that once I start, I’ll get adrenaline shakes. Watching other people race is one of the things that starts to give that little tingle. It makes the heart leap.”
Abdi Abdirahman, 44, is competing in his fifth (non-consecutive) Olympics, dating back to 2000 Sydney, where he placed 10th in 10,000 meters. He ran track again in 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing, switched to the marathon in 2012 London, missed qualifying for Rio, and returns for his second Olympic marathon. In 1998, at Arizona, he was the Pac-10 male cross country athlete of the year, but his career began at Pima Community College where he ran his first practice in jeans and Rockport shoes and nearly beat the No. 1 guy. On Thursday, he said that Tokyo, compared to other Olympics:
“Is definitely different because of the pandemic and the restrictions. I wake up, train, and come back to the hotel. We can't leave the hotel. We can stay in our rooms or hang out in the lobby. But maybe we can just focus a bit more on running now. That's how I'm dealing with it.
“I have my own room on the 15th floor so I have a clear view to the mountains. Galen is right next door. We do different workouts, but me and Galen run together on most easy runs.
“I still work with my University of Arizona coach Dave Murray. Also Gary Lough – husband of Paula Radcliffe – has been helping me a lot. He coaches Mo Farah and a lot of marathoners so I've been training with him the past few months, even though I still run for coach Murray.
“There’s a TV in my room. I watch the Olympics, but just the pictures because I don't understand the language. There's CNN, too, but they translate it to Japanese. On my computer, I keep up with back home, talk to friends, text. I’m not that bored. I'm just here hanging out, relaxing.”
Galen Rupp, 35, is competing in his fourth Olympics but, unlike his first three, he has no track events on his Tokyo schedule – only the marathon. In 2012 London, Rupp took silver behind Mo Farah in the 10,000 meters. Four years later, on a rainy day in Rio, he captured the bronze in the marathon. He also won the last two U.S. Olympic marathon trials, as well as the 2017 Chicago Marathon and placed second at Boston the same year. The father of four is based in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, Keara, who also ran for the Ducks. On Tuesday, he said:
“Track was always during the second half of the Olympics so when I was competing on there, there was always an element of waiting. So that feeling isn't different at all.
“The last week before marathon is about rest, anyway – getting your body as rested and recovered as possible, because it's gonna be a grueling race on Sunday. I’ve been going to sleep 9:00, 9:30, a little early for me.
“We're all in one hotel, all the marathoners, from every country. We do daily saliva tests and all the playbook protocols. I think we're all thankful to Japan for hosting this. It's not easy, obviously, during a pandemic. We're just grateful that Japan opened their country up to us.
“I have seen a little bit [of the Games], for sure. I have so many fond memories when I was really young of staying up late, putting a blanket down in our family room and watching whatever was on. I loved it all. So, definitely, watching. But it is more about taking care of business. When it fits in, I’ll have it on.
“I did see a 400-hurdles replay. I was rooting for Rai [Benjamin]. Unbelievable race. I was traveling a lot during the heart of gymnastics, so I missed a lot of that [Simone Biles news]. You have to balance it. You get so excited watching your teammates compete but, at the same time, you've got to harness that and not get too amped up.
“All of us here in Sapporo are so happy to be able to compete and are looking forward to the race on Sunday.
“It is kind of cool that we [Abdi, Jake, and I] are all from the Conference of Champions. Hopefully we'll do everyone proud.”