Eugene Weekly : 6.7.07

Fleet of Feet
Noble and Rupp raring to run in Sacramento

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are only a little more than a year away, Eugene is getting ready to host the 2007 Olympic Track and Field Trials at historic Hayward Field in June next year, the UO men’s track team has just been crowned Pacific-10 Conference champions, and the Ducks are now gearing up to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif.

It’s a good time to be a runner in Track Town USA.

Rebekah Noble (#195) will defend her NCAA championship in Sacramento. GEOFF THURNER
Galen Rupp will be going for his first NCAA title. GEOFF THURNER

And for Oregon distance phenoms Galen Rupp and Rebekah Noble, this week’s championship meet is only the beginning of a long, drawn-out process that they hope will culminate in Beijing next August.

Noble, a sophomore, returns to the NCAA Championships this year as the defending champion in the 800 meter, her pet event that she won as a freshman last year.

Despite finishing second to California sophomore Alysia Johnson at the West Regional Championships two weeks ago, Noble, a Spokane, Wash., native, was not discouraged by her own performance in that race.

“We had to qualify for nationals, and that’s what we did, running 2:04 off a pretty tired week,” Noble said. “Going into nationals, this is what we like to do: train through the week, keep fitness great, and have people PR’ing when they’re supposed to.

“So I have my confidence in that. Last year I (set a personal record) at nationals, so maybe I’ll PR again at nationals this year.”

Noble set a personal best of 2:02.07 last year en route to becoming the first collegiate freshman to win the NCAA outdoors 800-meter national title.

That set the bar pretty high going into this year, but Noble is not unduly worried about raised expectations or external pressures, and says she’s just looking forward to defending her title.

“It’s not really that different this year,” Noble said. “I’ve spoken to my mom and a lot of people about how I really don’t have anything to lose because I’m a national champion already and no one can take that away.

“So whatever happens this year, I won’t be sad or discouraged if I get second or third maybe. Who knows where I’ll end up? But at the end of that race, you just gotta take what you got out of it and put those in positive.”

Noble also intends to set her sights on a national team spot to compete in the Olympics next year.

“What the goal is for Rebekah Noble is to have the best shot to represent herself and the University of Oregon at the 2008 Olympic Trials, and to make the (United States) Olympic team in Beijing,” Oregon Director of Track and Field Vin Lananna said.

Galen Rupp also heads into this week’s national championships harboring Olympic dreams, and hunting for his first NCAA title.

After suffering through a thyroid condition that hampered his training throughout last season, this season marks a rejuvenation for the man who is being heralded as the successor to legendary Oregon distance runner Steve Prefontaine.

“Last year was unfortunate because of my thyroid problem and I didn’t have a performance anywhere near what I would have liked,” Rupp said. “Still, it helped build my character and taught me another lesson about running and not taking anything for granted.

“I definitely moved on from the last year, and this year I’m much better prepared, largely thanks to my family, coaches, friends and God who have looked out for me.”

Rupp has already set new personal bests in both the 5,000 meter and the 10,000 meter this year.

At the Oregon Invitational in April, he held off defending NCAA champion Chris Solinsky in the 5,000 meters to take the title with a personal best of 13:30.49.

Then, two weeks later at the Stanford Invitational, Rupp rewrote the record books this year when he shattered former Duck Bill McChesney’s 25-year-old Oregon record in the 10,000-meter race.

Rupp’s time of 27:33.48 was more than 15 seconds faster than McChesney’s 27:50.83 1982 record. It is also the third-fastest time in NCAA history.

“Galen Rupp has put himself in a position where he is truly an international-caliber athlete,” Lananna said. “I think he’s a legitimate contender to qualify for World Championships, he’s a legitimate contender at the NCAAs to win his first title.”

This week, in an effort to maintain his fitness toward his ultimate goal of making the Olympic team, Rupp has elected to compete only in the 10,000-meter race even though he qualified for the 5,000 meter as well.

“It was a tough call because the team could have used some extra points, but we decided that we probably weren’t going to win a team championship, and if we looked longer term, it would have hurt my chances the following week at (USA Outdoor Championships),” Rupp said. “It’s a tough double to do at the NCAAs, so we agreed that we made the right decision. Everybody’s comfortable with it and my teammates support it.”

Lananna emphasized that Rupp’s well-being and the team’s well being are synonymous.

“Is there a conflict between what’s good for the team and what’s good for Galen Rupp? There’s absolutely no conflict between those two endeavors,” Lananna said. “Galen has a shot at winning the NCAAs and what better stake for the Universtiy of Oregon and Eugene, Oregon than to say we’ve got the NCAA champion in the 10,000 meters and a guy who’s got a legitimate chance of making the U.S. team?”

Like Noble, the NCAA championships is but a stepping stone for Rupp, the number one seed going into this week. But regardless of what happens in Sacramento, Rupp’s season will not end there.

“The NCAAs is another chance to compete and not worry about times or spilts so much as the fundamentals of beating people,” Rupp said. “It’s important long-term in the next year in some respect, although we’re not trying to overemphasize any race, even the USA Championships (June 21) or the Olympic Trials.

“I want to go into this weekend with the mentality to do my best and try to win it.”

A win in the 10,000 meters would give Rupp, a three-time All-American, his first collegiate title and elevate him to the heights of of former Oregon legends like McChesney, Prefontaine and Alberto Salazar.

“It means a lot to be compared to those guy who have compiled such a great history,” Rupp said, “They were great in so many ways, and it’s truly an honor to try and join them in a special way. I can only hope to do some of what they actually accomplished.”

Rupp also quashed rumors about him leaving the Ducks and turning pro at the end of this season.

“I’m certainly enjoying college life. We still have big meets coming up, so my attention is 100 percent on them right now,” Rupp said. “The thought hasn’t crossed my mind about what will happen in the future.

“It’s on training and doing everything I can at nationals and helping the team. I don’t want it to ever become a distraction because I’m so happy with how everything’s gone. I’m trying to enjoy my time here right now.”