U.S. proving it can go the distance

While America’s women sprinters have combined for a gold, two silvers and two bronze medals heading into their 200 meter final, the male sprinters have just two medals -- Justin Gatlin’s bronze in the 100 and Michael Tinley’s silver in the 400 hurdles -- and have been surpassed by their teammates in the distance events.

On Saturday, Galen Rupp became the first American to win a medal in the 10,000 meter run since 1964. On Tuesday, Leo Manzano became the first to win a medal in the 1,500 since 1968, and Matt Centrowitz finished just four one-hundreths of a second shy of the bronze.

The Americans will look to continue their strong run in distance events Thursday in the men’s 5,000 meters, where Rupp, Bernard Lagat and Lopez Lomong will represent the U.S.

Why the distance success here after so many years?

“It’s because they believe now that we can do it,’’ said Lagat, who ran for Kenya before becoming a U.S. citizen. “They don’t look at Africans or Kenyans and Ethiopians and say, ‘Those are the guys who are supposed to be winning.’ No. They know now that we belong to the very top.

“This started a long time ago. And then Centrowitz last year (winning bronze at the world championships) and we saw Galen Rupp do an amazing job in the 10,000. And then last night in the 1,500 we had Leo Manzano. These are the guys who are believing they can do well, and the ladies, too.’’

The 5,000 meters should be a great race. In addition to the Americans, Mo Farah, the gold medalist in the 10K, will run. He ran a relatively slow 13:25.23 in the first heat Wednesday to qualify and said that the 10,000 took more out of him than he expected.

Ethiopians Dejen Gebremeskel and Yenew Alamirew had the day’s best times at 13:15.15 and 13:15.39. Lagat and Rupp were close behind at 13:15.45 and 13:17.56.

Lagat, the American record-holder in the 5,000, won a bronze medal for Kenya in the 1,500 at the 2000 Olympics and silver in that event in 2004. Hampered by injuries, he didn’t finish in the top three when he ran for the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics but said he is healthy now.

“I was just telling somebody that this is the best part of it,’’ Lagat said. “Now I feel relaxed and my mind is relaxed. I don’t have to worry about injury or anything like that. I’m feeling strong, I’ve been training so well and this is the best position I can be in.’’