July 05, 2008

EUGENE, Ore. -- When Galen Rupp's turn finally came Friday night at the Olympic Track and Field Trials, the Oregon native ruffled his blond hair, waved to his hometown crowd and proceeded to show why so much hype has surrounded him for so many years. Running in front of a record 20,936 at Hayward Field, Rupp finished second to Abdi Abdirahman in the 10,000, earning a spot on the Olympic Team. Jorge Torres finished third to join Abdirahman and Rupp in Beijing.

"This has always been a dream of mine," Rupp said. "The Olympics are your time to shine. And to do it here, on July 4, in the green and yellow was just great."

The night was a long time coming for Rupp. He first gained notice at Central Catholic High School in Portland in 2003, running under the tutelage of former distance star Alberto Salazar. After graduating from Central Catholic in '04, Rupp enrolled at Oregon and was instantly embraced by the community.

"I think Track Town has done a lot for him," Salazar said. "He was probably the first brick in the foundation that's been built now. Galen came here at a time when the UO program was definitely at a low, then a great coach was hired ... from there it just started to build."

Rupp's arrival was the start of a resurgence in the track and field program at UO. Shortly after Rupp arrived, Vin Lananna was hired to take over as coach. Instantly Lananna started talking about the "great vision" he had for Oregon track and the community, a vision Rupp didn't understand until Friday night.

"When I came here the distance program was struggling, but the tradition is something that will never die, just like basketball at UCLA and football at Notre Dame," Rupp said, shaking his head in awe. "Vin needs to be given credit -- I never dreamed it would be this big."

Rupp has run at Hayward countless times. He raced there as a high schooler during the state meet and the past two years in a Duck uniform (he is red-shirting this year to train for the Olympics). But in all the laps he's taken around the field, none has had the noise behind it of Friday night.

"You couldn't not hear them," Rupp said. "This was ten times better, more than ten times [than before]. Thousands of people screaming for you, it's a huge boost.

"There are times when I started to question myself, question if I was going to make it through, whether I was going to finish. This is my first 10K of the year. I just had little doubts, not big ones, and everyone gets those. But to have them yelling ... it just kinda puts that stuff out."

It was the second night the fans cheered loudest for the second-place finisher. Four nights prior in the men's 800, the pro-Oregon crowd screamed as Duck sophomore Andrew Wheating kicked late to finish second and earn a berth to Beijing. Rupp saw that race, and hopped the support for him would be as loud.

"I saw what they did for Wheating and that was awesome. They lifted him," Rupp said of his Oregon, and now Olympic, teammate. "I'm going to have a good roommate in Beijing."

And of course in Beijing there will be Salazar, the famed coach who is as close to Rupp as almost anyone. Salazar was hospitalized earlier this week for high blood pressure, and Rupp says his coach's status kept things in perspective during the race.

"Honestly ever since his heart attack a year ago it's always in the back of my mind," Rupp said. "It's a scary thing to go through. I'm always kinda watching out for him."

Rupp's second-place finish Friday was one of many in his career. Just recently he was the 2007 World Outdoor runner-up in the 10,000 and in the NCAA 10,000. He has been criticized for not being able to win big races when the stakes are high, but Rupp says he hasn't lost confidence in himself.

"Pressure is something I've dealt with since high school," Rupp said. "I've got a little bit of a second streak going but I've always got the job done, I've made the teams. High expectations mean you have a chance to do something special."

Now it is onto China where Rupp will represent his country, a dream he has chased almost as long as he's been running. He is not expected to contend for a medal in Beijing, but that fact could not have mattered less Friday night, as he was welcomed back into the arms of an adoring fan base. He finished second in the race, but his victory lap lasted longer than anyone else's.

"It's great to be back," a jubilant Rupp said. "I've been in a little isolation [training] in Utah. I didn't realize how much I'd miss it."

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