It was just like home for Galen Rupp. The U.S. Olympian distance runner, a son of Portland, Ore., who is coming off one of the most extraordinary performances in Olympic Trials history, blazed around the track at Dozier Field with ease. His pace, to the members of the Park City High School football team practicing on the artificial turf, was blinding.
"See that dude?" one player said to another. "He's going to the Olympics, man."
"Wow," the other player responded, "that guy is really fast."
Galen Rupp is fast. He's a 26-year-old former star at the University of Oregon where he dominated distance running in track & field for years. He won three national titles in high school, has been named to three Team USA squads at the World Outdoor Championships and competed at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, China.
Soft-spoken and engaging, Rupp has spent most of his time this summer training in Park City in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, which kick off on July 27.
But this isn't the first time the superstar has tasted Park City life. He's been training in town off and on for the last five summers.
He arrived this summer in May with head coach Alberto Salazar, a world-renowned distance coach and former marathon star, along with a number of other athletes under Salazar's Nike running umbrella, to train in the thin mountain air.
"I've told people that I believe Park City is the best altitude training locale in the world," said Salazar, who spent hours Wednesday morning working on Rupp's finishing speed. "From May through probably October, it's just a perfect altitude. You can sleep at 8,000 feet and train at 6,800 feet."
That must have made a difference in late June when Rupp returned to his collegiate stomping grounds and made history on the track in Eugene.
Rupp became the first U.S. runner in 60 years to win both the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races at the Olympic Trials and he broke the 5,000-meter record set by legendary former University of Oregon athlete Steve Prefontaine in 1972, finishing in 13:22.67, a sliver ahead of the cult icon's 13:22.8 time.
"To be honest, Olympic Trials aren't necessarily known for fast times," Salazar said as Rupp took a dozen or so cool-down laps at Dozier Field. "They're strategic races. Since Pre had that record, Galen has run a 12:58. A 13:22 is considerably slower. It's just what I would call an interesting fact because the record held on for so long."
That mesmerizing hometown performance took a lot out of Rupp. Since the Trials in late June he has been training on a meticulous schedule to make sure his body can recover, all the while preparing for London.
Salazar said he has his protégé running 120 miles a week -- 100 miles outdoors and 20 miles on a specialized underwater treadmill -- and the pair are, as they showcased at Dozier Field Wednesday morning, working on Rupp's closing speed, a rare asset he possesses.
"You can't just jog up until that point (of the Games)," Salazar said. "There's still a fine line between overdoing it and underdoing it -- still have hard workouts to go, but at this point, we'll definitely start dropping the mileage. This is kind of as high as it gets.
"Right now, he's tired because you go through something like that and you run something like the Trials and then you go back to another two weeks at altitude. He's dead today, but he had a good workout."
Rupp said he is happy that the training and Trials -- according to Salazar, he ran 20,000 meters worth of races in Eugene -- will be slowing down.
"We're still hitting it pretty hard right now, but in a week or two we'll start resting," Rupp explained. "It's starting to get to the fun part. This is what you work all year for, for basically this one opportunity in the Olympics. It's cool to see all this work that you've done. You don't always feel good, but when you start resting, it all starts to come together."
While going through his cool-down stretches, Rupp twisted and contorted like a pretzel. He said this year's Olympiad won't be the daunting eye-opener that it was in Beijing when he hung out with "The Redeem Team" featuring NBA superstars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. He also met former President George W. Bush.
"The Olympics are hard to prepare for because it only comes every four years and it is different from those other big meets," he said. "It's hard to stay completely focused on your race. I'm hoping that this time around it will be a little easier and there won't be as many distractions and I'll know what to expect."
Wednesday was Salazar's last day in Park City. He flew to London to watch some of his other runners compete in a training race in the U.K. He will be meeting up with Rupp -- who leaves Utah today -- Britain's Mo Farah and other runners in Font-Romeu, France, at another high-altitude training destination two hours north of Barcelona in the Pyrenees mountains. The schedule, to Rupp's delight, calls for rest, relaxation and fine-tuning.
"You have to take care of all the little things going on," Rupp said, "because in the end, if you're that much more rested, it could make all the difference in the world at the end of your race."
Salazar said Rupp has a real opportunity to burst onto the international scene during these Games.
"I joked with him today and said, 'This is the speed that's going to win you a medal,'" he said. "But we don't talk about it all the time. That's when you get away from what you need to do. I liken it to Tiger Woods having to hit a 20-foot putt to force it into extra holes. The last thing Tiger Woods thinks about, psychologically, is 'I have to do this.' Instead, he thinks, 'You know what, I've done this 10,000 times before. This is what I do.' You make it into the process. The more you think about the outcome, the less you're able to think about the process.
"For Galen, it will be hang there, hang there, relax, relax, relax and then finish at the end and out-sprint people. It's a pretty simple process to remember."
The low-hanging clouds that released a teasing light drizzle eventually moved on, as they so often do along the Wasatch Back. The sun would have its moment, and Rupp would continue to train as the temperature gauge hiked north.
That didn't matter to him. He ditched his red Nike training top and continued to work on his closing speed with Salazar as members of the Miners' football team gawked.