Monday, August 06, 2012
“I absolutely believe that starting 20 years ago, Americans and Western Europeans had a defeatist attitude,” Salazar said. “For whatever other reasons the Americans and Brits went through a little bit of a lull and all of a sudden the East Africans started running faster than any one had run before, but now the Americans and Brits and Europeans were running slower so all of a sudden you had this huge gap.”
The Nike Oregon project(NOP) was Salazar's attempt to revive the elite level of US distance running. The NOP began in 2001, and in 2002 a participant in the program, Dan Browne, won the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon with Kenyan runners relegated to second and third. When Salazar was asked if Browne's win was "the first big victory" for a runner in the NOP, Salazar responded from London via e-mail: "I think you're right!"
The goal of the program was, first, to put Americans on the podium in distance events, and, eventually, to break the East African stranglehold on World and Olympic championships.
Rupp, then a high-school student, was among the first members of the project.“I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were times when I didn’t think that would happen, but we’ve always kind of stuck it out,” Rupp told the Globe & Mail.
“There have definitely been some bumps on the road along the way but he has just been meticulous in his planning. He takes a really long-term, gradual approach and I think today he really showed that that pays off.”
Farah was developed in the British system, while Rupp has been perhaps Salazar's most successful pupil. Both Farah and Rupp were originally soccer players whose coaches recognized that they had far more talent as runners. Their futures were on the track, not as the next David Beckham. Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated does a fine job of tracking the development of both HERE.
But the key element for both Rupp and Farah has something of at least a coaching philosophy connection in Minnesota as well. Stillwater's Scott Christensen realized the same thing that Salazar learned from his own experience as a 10K runner on the track, championship racing comes down to who has the ability to utilize finishing speed. At the Olympic level, that means being able to run 52, 53 seconds for the last lap of a five or ten K.
Christensen has understood that for the mile for his high school kids, four of whom went on to run sub-four minute miles after they left Stillwater. An article in the September issue of Running Times provides more insight into how he has helped his runners work on developing their speed. Farah came to the Nike Oregon Project and Salazar for that missing element needed to win a World Championship and Olympic gold medal. Salazar delivered in being able to maximize the ability of both Farah and Rupp to finish fast.
On Saturday in London that work paid dividends.