On a cool, cloudy New York morning in November 2022, four-time Olympian Galen Rupp couldn’t even finish his race.
Facing searing pain due to a herniated disc in his back, Rupp dropped out before the 19th mile at the 2022 New York City Marathon.
“That was a wake-up call,” Rupp recalled at a press conference before the 2023 Chicago Marathon. “I was in a lot of pain just walking around. … My whole body was twisted up. It was a rough couple of years.
“After New York, I had to start from scratch. A lot of things have changed with my form and mechanics. It’s been a comprehensive program.”
That program has paid off. Rupp is healthy just in time for Saturday's U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando, Florida, where the 37-year-old will vie to compete in his fifth Olympic Games.
Rupp’s Olympic debut came in the 2008 Beijing Games, in which he set a U.S. Olympic record in the men’s 10,000m with a time of 27 minutes, 36.99 seconds, finishing 13th. He was just 22 years old at the time and still a junior at the University of Oregon. After those Olympics, Rupp returned to Eugene and wrapped up one of the most impressive collegiate running careers in history.
Nearly two decades later, Rupp is a father of four and has run in four Olympics. His trophy case includes two Olympic medals: silver in the 10,000m at the London Games and bronze in the marathon in Rio.
Only 88 athletes in track and field history have appeared in five Olympic Games. Considering that there have been at least 120,000 athletes in the history of the Olympics, per OlympStats.com, Rupp is on the precipice of joining the Olympic elite.
“When I’m healthy and running well, there’s no doubt in my mind I can keep doing this for many years,” Rupp said at the Chicago press conference. “I believe I can do this well into my forties. I love the journey of getting ready for races, and that fire burns as hot as ever.”
When I'm healthy and running well, there’s no doubt in my mind I can keep doing this for many years.
The elder statesmen are trending up, and Rupp is riding the wave. Abdihakem Abdirahman finished third at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials to clinch his fifth Olympic appearance at age 44.
"It would be awesome to make a fifth team," Rupp said at a January press conference, days before this year's Houston Marathon. “But obviously, I've got to get it done on the day. That's one of the brutal, but fun, things about the system we have.”
As Rupp details, making the U.S. Olympic team is grueling for any marathoner. Regardless of pedigree, personal bests and Olympic history, athletes must earn it in one race in February at Trials. Rupp will have that chance Saturday in Orlando.
The good news for Rupp: He’s the twice-defending champion at the U.S. Trials. He clocked in at 2:09:20 to win the 2020 U.S. Trials in Atlanta. In 2016, Rupp finished first at Trials in Los Angeles, running in 2:11:13.
The bad news: Qualifying is a beast this year. Only two U.S. men are guaranteed spots at the 2024 Olympic marathon, down from three in Rio and Tokyo.
Rupp maintains he’s healthy and back to his usual training volume ahead of Trials. With the men’s start slated for 10:10 a.m. ET, a later slot than the average marathon, Rupp feels even more primed to compete.
“I’m not a morning person,” Rupp said. “That’s the one thing I absolutely hate about road running in a marathon. I would much rather run at 11 or 12 than at 7 in the morning.”