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A Changing Tide for US Men’s Distance Running

Matthew Centrowitz sprinted to a historic Gold in the Men’s 1500m

In the 2004 Olympics, the men’s 1500m saw Americans Charlie Gruber, Grant Robison and Alan Webb go out in the trials. Their fortunes were little better in the men’s 5000m as Tim Broe was the lone representative in the final where he finished 11th in 13:33.06, almost 30 seconds behind the winner, Hicham El Guerrouj of Morroco (13:14.39). To say that things were bleak for American distance running might be an understatement. It was perhaps the nadir.

Jump ahead to this past week and the transformation is miraculous. Centrowitz’s victory in the 1500m is the first for an American since Mel Sheppard 1908. Evan Jager’s silver medal is the first for an american since Brian Diemer’s bronze in the 1984 LA Olympics. An event that has been dominated by the Kenyan’s in the preceeding 34 years as they have won a remarkable 18 medals including 9 golds at the last 9 Olympics.

US Army runner Paul Chelimo’s silver medal was an American first since Bill Dellinger, Steve Prefontaine’s coach, in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. While Galen Rupp’s Bronze in the Marathon ended a far less historic drought thanks to Meb Keflezighi’s Silver in Athens (2004). However it did mark only the second US men’s medal since Frank Shorter’s silver in Montreal (1976).

In short, these Olympic performances were not only historic in that they were great performances but that they ended an American medal drought that has spanned decades for many of these events.