EUGENE, Ore. (28-Jun) -- Galen Rupp became the first man in 60 years to win both the 5000m and 10,000m titles at the same USA Olympic Trials here tonight, beating Bernard Lagat in a sprint finish of the 5000m and breaking Steve Prefontaine's 40 year-old Olympic Trials record for the distance. Rupp clocked 13:22.67, just 15/100ths of a second ahead of Lagat.
"I really just told myself, keep your head down, keep your form good, and keep driving to the finish," Rupp told reporters after the race.
Rupp, 26, who lives and trains in Portland about 120 miles north of here under coach Alberto Salazar, ran a sound tactical race. He stayed back in the pack while four-time national road running champion Mo Trafeh led nearly all of the race, running 65 to 66-second laps. Rupp kept Lagat and his other key rival, Lopez Lomong, in front of him, until there were two laps to go. He then moved to the front, and ran a sub-62 second lap to string out the field. Rupp said he was prepared to challenge Lagat in his rival's wheelhouse: the final sprint.
"This was going to be the hard one," Rupp said, comparing the race to his 10,000m victory last Friday. "I knew it was going to be a big finish."
With less than 300 meters left in the race, Rupp was running hard on the backstretch, chased by Lagat, Lomong and Andrew Bumbalough. Lagat began to catch Rupp on the final bend, then went past him into the homestretch. The former Kenyan had beaten Rupp in all of their previous 14 meetings, and it looked like he had him again.
"I was prepared," Lagat said. "I knew at any moment he was coming past me, then he came back and got me."
Lagat started to tie up with about 50 meters to go, and Rupp pushed past him in the inside, completing a 52.6-second lap to seal the win. He whipped his right arm in victory, like a player at a craps table whose lucky number had just come up. His time was just slightly better than Prefontaine's 1972 Trials record of 13:22.8 set on the same track.
"I'm on cloud nine," Rupp said. He added: "It's a great topper for me. To be mentioned in the same breath as Steve Prefontaine is a thrill for me."
Lomong, a 2008 Olympian at 1500m, finished a clear third ahead of Bumbalough, 13:24.47 to 13:26.67. The top three men all had the Olympic Games "A" standard of 13:20.00 coming into the race, so they all earned their team spots tonight.
Culley, Conley Surprise In Women's 5000M
The women's 5000m also featured a fantastic finish. In an unevenly paced race that saw constant lead changes, Julia Lucas made a bold bid for victory with four laps to go. Through 3800 meters, she ran a 71.9-second circuit, then turned on the speed to clock 69-flat, then 68.5 for the penultimate circuit. She had a two-second lead over both Molly Huddle and Julie Culley, and Culley was worried.
"I wasn't sure she would come back," Culley told reporters.
In the final lap, Huddle led the chase to reel in Lucas, and Culley followed. Into the homestretch, Lucas began to slow significantly. First Huddle passed her, then Culley, who then set her sights on passing Huddle.
"Luckily, I had one more gear before the finish line," Culley said.
Culley got the win in 15:13.77 --her second national title and her first on the track-- and earned her first Olympic team berth. She said that her victory was not only for herself, but for her New Jersey-New York Track Club coach, Frank Gagliano.
"It just feels so awesome to do this for him," said Culley, sporting a freshly painted red fingernails, her lucky color. "I couldn't give him any more than this."
Huddle, the USA 5000m record holder, also became a first-time Olympian with her second place finish in 15:14.40. Behind her the most compelling drama of the race was playing out. Lucas looked like she was going to faint and was barely moving in the final meters of the race. Unheralded Kim Conley, who did not have the "A" standard of 15:20 going into the race, was charging to the finish behind her. Literally in the last meter, Conley passed Lucas not only to get third, but to narrowly break 15:20 by 21/100ths of a second and lock in an improbable Olympic team berth.
"This is beyond a dream come true," Conley said. "I can't even wrap my head around it yet."
Lucas finished fourth, a scant 4/100ths behind Conley, and just ahead of the NCAA 5000m champion, Dartmouth sophomore Abbey D'Agostino, who also broke the "A" standard with a personal best 15:19.98.
Jager Wins Men's Steeplechase
In a significant upset, Evan Jager won the men's steeplechase title in only his fourth attempt at the distance, running a personal record 8:17.40. He was widely seen as the second-best athlete on the track behind 2010 USA steeplechase champion Dan Huling. But Huling, who led the final laps of the race, fell apart in the last 300 meters and only finished seventh before falling to the track in both exhaustion and disbelief. Jager was elated.
"Last two years were definitely a huge struggle," Jager told Flotrack.org shaking his head. Then he smiled. "It's definitely been worth it: I'm able to call myself an Olympian now."
Donn Cabral, the reigning NCAA champion who ran in his Princeton University kit in the preliminary round, finished second in 8:19.81 wearing a new Nike uniform today, and 2008 NCAA steeplechase champion Kyle Alcorn finished third (8:22.17). All three men ran under the Olympic Games "A" standard of 8:23.10 and claimed their spots on the Olympic team tonight.
Favorites Advance In 1500M First Round
In the first of three rounds in the 1500m, only six male and six female athletes were eliminated, and amongst those none had team-making potential. On the women's side, Morgan Uceny led all qualifiers with a modest 4:14.07 clocking in the second heat. However, the 2011 Samsung Diamond League 1500m champion got annoyed after Gabriele Anderson clipped her during the race, turning around to scold the former University of Minnesota athlete.
"It was just small trips," Uceny told reporters, reminding them how she was tripped and fell in last summer's IAAF World Championships. "At this point, I can't have that happen. People are very tense in the first round. Its' just nerves coming through."
Uceny's training partner, Anna Pierce, also advanced taking second in the third heat. The Olympic steeplechaser was forced to swing wide out of the final turn and finish in the center of the track.
"It was no problem," said Pierce matter of factly. "I felt like I was jogging."
World champion Jenny Simpson and 2009 world championships bronze medalist Shannon Rowbury were also amongst the 24 women who advance to tomorrow's semi-finals.
It was a similar story on the men's side. David Torrence and Matthew Centrowitz finished second and third, respectively, in the first heat in 3:41.99 and 3:42.02. Torrence, who also had the Olympic "A" standard in the 5000m and considered running that event, said his race tonight was challenging.
"It was a little faster than I expected," Torrence admitted. "We were going 60's."
Centrowitz did not speak to the press, and was hustled past reporters through the mixed zone by a handler.
The 2011 NCAA 800m champion Robby Andrews advance by finishing fourth in the second of three heats. He had to come from behind out of the final turn to secure his spot.
"I just wanted to stay as cool as possible," Andrews said. "Hopefully, I'll make it to the final."
When asked why he chose to run the 1500m at this meet instead of the 800, he responded: "Coach Vig (Jason Vigilante) has all the answers. He told me to run the 1500m. He's got the brains."
Other key athletes who advanced to the semi-finals were Andrew Wheating, Leo Manzano, Jordan McNamara, A.J. Acosta, and Russell Brown.
Columbia University's Kyle Merber did not advance, placing last in the final heat. He clearly looked fatigued after a long NCAA season.
"It's embarrassing when six people are eliminated and you're one of them," said Merber, who was a philosophy major.
PHOTO: Galen Rupp is congratulated by his wife Keara after winning the 2012 USA Olympic Trials 5000m (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)