In a symbolic handing of the torch for America's male marathoners, 30-year-old Galen Rupp of the University of Oregon won the bronze medal in Rio with a time of 2:10:05 in just his second-ever marathon. Meb Keflezighi of UCLA, ill throughout the race, finished 33rd, participating in his fourth Olympic Games at the age of 41.
Jared Ward, a 27-year-old Brigham Young University alumnus and adjunct statistics professor, finished sixth with a time of 2:11:30 in his first Olympics and fifth-ever marathon.
The Rio Games were the third Olympics for Rupp, who finished a disappointing 5th in the 10,000 with a time of 27:08.92.
In the 2012 London Games, Rupp earned a silver medal in the 10,000 with a time of 27:30.90, less than a second behind his training partner, Great Britain’s Mo Farah, who took the gold with a time of 27:30.42.
Rupp was 13th in the 10,000 in the 2008 Beijing Games, with a time of 27:36.99.
Ward finished 19th in the 2013 Chicago Marathon, his first-ever 26.2 mile race. In 2014, he placed second in the Twin Cities Marathon, and a year later he won the USA Marathon Championships in Los Angeles with a time of 2:12:56.
Ward’s time of 2:13:00 in just his fourth marathon at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles in February earned him a trip to Rio.
"Everything just all combines to make him a pretty special athlete in regards to understanding the big picture, understanding what it takes, and coupling his talent and his hard work and his perseverance and his passion with the knowledge [from] his statistical background helps him have an even fuller understanding," coach Ed Eyestone told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Keflezighi, who has had consistent and receent success in the marathon, came to Rio as one of the sport's stars.
In 2009, Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York Marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982. Salazar is Rupp's marathon coach. Keflezighi won the 2014 Boston Marathon, the first American to accomplish that feat since Greg Meyer in 1983. The win catapulted Keflezighi to stardom.
“When I won New York, I became famous, but when I won Boston, I became a celebrity,” Keflezighi told the New York Times. “I heard someone call me a patron saint of running. I don’t know about that, but I run from my heart, and for everyone else out here.”
In 2000, Keflezighi finished 12th in the 10,000 meters in the Sydney Games, before becoming a full-time marathoner. The move to a longer distance has been a good one for Keflezighi: He earned a silver in the 2004 Athens Games with a time of 2:11:29, becoming the first American man to medal in the Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games, when Frank Shorter earned a silver.
A stomach illness prior to the the 2008 Olympic Trials left Keflezighi dehydrated for the race, and his time of 2:15:09 was only good for eighth place, leaving him off the Beijing team. He did qualify for the 2012 London Games, but while his time of 2:11:06 was slightly better than his performance in Athens, he finished fourth.
Keflezighi is one of 46 foreign-born U.S. Olympians, having been born in Eretria before emigrating to the U.S. in 1987, when the 12-year-old settled in San Diego with his family.
When it came time to choose a college, Keflezighi stayed in California, opting for UCLA. His time as a Bruin was extremely successful: over the course of his career he earned 12 All-American selections, including a stellar year in 1997, when Keflezighi was the NCAA Champion in the indoor 5,000 meters, the outdoor 5,000 meters, the outdoor 10,000 meters and cross country.
Keflezighi graduated from UCLA in 1998, the same year he became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Ward was born, grew up and still lives in Utah, where he trains 120 miles a week in the thin 7,000 foot air when not working as a statistics instructor at his alma mater.
Ward’s day job splendidly complements his Olympic dream. His master’s degree thesis was aptly titled, “Analyzing Split Times for Runners in the 2013 St. George Marathon,” and he certainly speaks like a math geek when he discusses running.
“Every marathon presents a whole new set of data points that you can study to prepare for your next marathon,” he told Runners World.
Ward enjoyed success as a high school runner, but did garner national attention, or even win a statewide race in Utah. He gained success in college, but not until he'd served a two-year Mormon mission in Pittsburgh.
The intensity of his religious faith prevented Ward from a semblance of a proper training regiment while in Pittsburgh, and he gained 20 pounds before matriculating to BYU.
Injuries nagged Ward throughout his career as a Cougar, and although he earned All-American honors in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters, the prospect of becoming a professional runner, much less an Olympic marathoner, was far from his radar.
"I don't think I had anything further than a dream of making the Olympic team," Ward told the Salt Lake Tribune.