London • Cam Levins had the best seat in the house.
The breakout track star from Southern Utah University was tucked into the main pack for most of the men's 10,000 meters at the London Olympics on Saturday night, convincing himself that he really can run at this level and at the same time watching an epic race unfold in front of him at the Olympic Stadium.
Levins was finally left behind at the bell lap, as Great Britain's Mo Farah and the United States' Galen Rupp training partners who spent two months before the Games working out in Utah dashed to historic gold and silver medals in front of 80,000 roaring fans.
"I just can't believe it," Farah said.
The native-born Somali had become one of the great expectations for Britons here, along with heptathlete Jessica Ennis, who claimed gold barely an hour before Farah ended a 20-year Ethiopian reign in the longest race on the track.
No American had won a medal in the event since Billy Mills stunned the field at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
Yet Farah and Rupp held off Ethiopa's Tariku Bekele during a riveting sprint down the stretch Â two-time defending champion and world-record holder Kenenisa Bekele was left well back in fourth Â finishing in 27 minutes, 30.42 seconds and 27:30.90, respectively.
The two embraced at the finish, and Farah dropped to the track in celebration and relief.
"We felt they could outsprint anybody in the race," said Alberto Salazar, the former marathon champion who coaches both men. "We didn't care if it was a fast race or a slow pace or whatever. They weren't going to try to win it till the last 400, maybe even the last 200 meters. It was a very simple plan."
Same with Levins.
Once a modestly accomplished high school runner in Canada who blossomed in Cedar City thanks to a high-mileage training plan under coach Eric Houle, he wanted to stay with the pack as long as possible and hope his kick could deliver a top-10 finish. That didn't quite happen, but it came close.
Levins was in the mix the whole way, never losing contact through a series of surges, and finished 11th in 27:40.68 not quite a personal-best six weeks after a leg injury, but easily a heroic performance as far as the Thunderbirds and Team Canada are concerned.
"I was almost thinking, like, 'OK, when is the pace going to be so fast that I'm going to get thrown off the back of this?' " he said. "And even though the pace was going fast by the end, it never felt like I was going to lose them. I was tired going into the last lap and I got blown away â¦ but I got there. I was pretty happy with it."
Happy does not begin to cover it for Farah and Rupp.
Their success represented a huge achievement for the so-called "Oregon Project," a training program under Salazar created a decade ago and intended to return American distance runners to the podium after years of absence.
Farah moved his family to Oregon last year to take part, with Rupp having been there already, after running for Salazar at the University of Oregon. The two spent eight weeks training in Salt Lake City and Park City during the lead-up to London.
"We love it there," Salazar said.
Notorious for running upward of 150 miles a week, Levins said he kept his coach's promise that he would keep up the high mileage straight through to the Olympics, knocking out 140 the week before the Games at a training camp in Germany. The result was a new kind of belief for Levins, who also plans to run the 5,000 meters next week.
"I was confident that I could run with these guys," he said, "but this has proven to me that I can. I can't sprint with them yet. I'm not quite strong enough to do that yet. But I have no doubt that will come."
"I'm so happy with it," he added. "I stuck with the guys till the very end. Although the place may say just 11th, I'm so pleased to even be with these guys and run with these guys" until the final lap.