- Mike Smith, the head coach of cross country and track and field at Northern Arizona University, told Runner’s World that he is now coaching pro marathoner Galen Rupp.
- Rupp’s previous coach, Alberto Salazar, is serving a four-year ban from track due to anti-doping violations.
- Smith led the NAU men’s cross-country team to NCAA team titles in 2017 and 2018, and a runner-up finish in 2019.
Two-time Olympic medalist Galen Rupp has a new coach.
Rupp, whose previous coach, Alberto Salazar, is serving a four-year ban from track due to anti-doping violations, is now entrusting his training to Mike Smith, the head coach of the Northern Arizona University cross-country and track teams.
Smith confirmed the coaching relationship in an email to Runner’s World, writing that he was surprised to get a phone call from Rupp last fall and took a long time to consider whether to coach him.
The move marks a major change for Rupp, 33, who had been under Salazar’s guidance since Salazar spotted him playing soccer when he was a 14-year-old high school student in Portland, Oregon. Rupp went to college nearby at the University of Oregon and after graduating in 2009, he joined the Salazar-led Nike Oregon Project (NOP).
While still in college, Rupp made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in the 10,000 meters, finishing 13th. At the 2012 Games in London, he won silver in the 10,000 meters behind his then-NOP teammate Mo Farah of Great Britain. In 2016, Rupp was the Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon. He also won the 2017 Chicago Marathon and the 2018 Prague Marathon, where he set his personal best of 2:06:07, second on the U.S. all-time list.
But Rupp was plagued by Achilles problems and Haglund’s deformity in his left foot, and he underwent major surgery in October 2018.
Last October, as Rupp was preparing to race Chicago again, his first race since the surgery, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced news of Salazar’s ban. Salazar is appealing the decision, but in the meantime, he is not allowed to coach, and athletes who are in contact with him are subject to sanction. Nike executives shut down the Oregon Project a few days after the ban. Rupp made it to about 23 miles of the Chicago Marathon in 2019, before dropping out with a calf strain.
Rupp has never failed a drug test, and he is one of the most frequently tested American athletes.
He is also very private, staying off of social media and eschewing media interviews except around major marathons. Other athletes who had been training under Salazar had announced moves to new coaches, but Rupp had not, fueling speculation about his training and preparations for the Olympic Marathon Trials next month in Atlanta.
His move to Smith, who is based in Flagstaff, Arizona, is a radical shift away from the insular culture Salazar created at the NOP in Beaverton, Oregon.
Smith, 39, is a well-respected collegiate coach, having led the NAU men’s cross-country team to NCAA team titles in 2017 and 2018, and a runner-up finish in 2019. The women were 14th in 2019. Before NAU, he coached at Georgetown, his alma mater. In college, he earned All-American honors in cross country, and he later qualified for the Olympic marathon trials in 2007 (for the 2008 Games). He got his start in coaching working under legendary distance coach Jack Daniels.
“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that,” Smith wrote in his email.“I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”
He wrote that he expects Rupp “to line up in Atlanta on February 29th and contend for a spot on the 2020 Olympic team.” The full text of Smith’s email to Runner’s World is here.
Sarah Lorge Butler is a writer and editor living in Eugene, Oregon, and her stories about the sport, its trends, and fascinating individuals have appeared in Runner’s World since 2005.