The Nike Oregon Project stationed in Portland, Oregon has been consistent in providing American track and field with some of its finest athletes. Under the tutelage of former Boston and New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar, individuals like Kara and Adam Goucher, Galen Rupp and Dathan Ritzenhein have been able to step up and be competitive with the entire world rather than being merely nationally recognized.
A recent ingredient to this chemistry that has pushed this program to even greater frontiers is the addition of foreign athletes into its ranks. Unlike many similar training groups in the U.S., the Salazar group has brought in world class competitors from foreign countries, giving its U.S. members a glance at what they have to live with on the international scene.
The improvements of Rupp and Ritzenhein – though bound to happen by their own drive and talent – have gained indispensable aid by training with World 5000 meter champion Mo Farah. The British phenomenon, whose meteoric improvements coincided with his move to train with Salazar’s contingent, became linked with his new training partner Galen Rupp’s progress.
The ability of Rupp and Ritzenhein to have been co-beneficiaries in improving their times against elite competition may be a product of working out on a consistent basis with an athlete of Farah’s caliber.
The inclusion of Farah, who before his move to the US was a good but not dominating athlete, has made both him and his American partners in the Salazar camp better through their group dynamic and being tested on a daily basis with each other.
This unique opportunity for America’s best distance runners to have such a close relationship and training experience with their primary competition has made them stronger and more competent as was witnessed by Rupp’s summer performances both as the first non-African born finisher at Worlds and his American record at 10,000 meters and Ritzenhein’s marathon personal best at the Olympic Trials.
This symbiotic relationship between the group’s Americans and their foreign partners may set the foundation for improvements for all those involved and be a template for emulators.
The move that appears to confirm that this experiment is of further consideration by the group was Irish national Ciaran O’Lionaird recently becoming a member. At last weekend’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, O’Lionaird was victorious over his Salazar training partners Farah and Rupp testing their under-distance speed. As Farah has Rupp and Ritzenhein to mesh with, O’Lionaird is gaining a partner in World bronze medalist in Matt Centrowitz at the middle distances.
Bringing America’s finest distance runners and their international rivals together appears to be expanding and paying dividends for its adherents. Under his wing at the moment Salazar has five men with three national allegiances and all with opportunities to medal at this summer’s Olympics. Rather than xenophobia and suspicion ruling at this group, the members appear to embrace improvement for all over petty cross-national squabbles.
This also supplies proof that Western-based training can lead to success for distance runners and not force them to run to the Rift Valley in desperation as the Robertson twins of New Zealand did in search of meaningful training.