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With Split double, Lagat puts his tactical brilliance on display – IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup

Bernard Lagat completes a 3000/5000m double at the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup in Split (Getty Images)Bernard Lagat completes a 3000/5000m double at the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup in Split (Getty Images) © Copyright
Bernard Lagat made history tonight at the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup and also added plenty of evidence to the argument that at the moment, there may not be a better tactical middle distance racer in the world.

Lagat added the Continental Cup 3000m title to the 5000m crown he took yesterday to emerge as the only individual double winner in Split. Along with his 1500m win at the World Cup in Madrid eight years ago, the 35-year-old American became the first athlete to collect victories at a World or Continental Cup in three different events. Considering the fields he faced, his was hardly an effortless chore.

“This is great because I was running against the best in the world,” Lagat said after kicking, for the second straight day, to a convincing victory, this time in the 3000m. “I was running against Tariku (Bekele) tonight. Last night I was running against some of the best guys in the world, and I won it.”

At 7:54.75 in today’s 3000 and 13:58.23, neither race was particularly fast, playing perfectly into Lagat’s hands. The similarities in their outcomes was uncanny.

“They kind of went the same,” Lagat said. “But yesterday was more clear. There was just one person I was chasing. Today we were about five of us still together with about 300 metres to go. But I was composed. I know when I have plenty left, and I had plenty left. Yesterday I did too.”

“In terms of strategy they went about in a similar way but this one was a bit more because I had to look at all the other guys because we were still all together with 80 metres to go.”

One glaring difference was that as the leaders kicked off the final turn, Lagat found himself boxed on the inside. Was there any hint of doubt that his double ambitions might be in jeopardy?
 
“No doubt at all,” Lagat said. “I was a little concerned when the guys had me a little blocked in. But then I was waiting for whenever that opportunity happens, when an opening pops up. Bekele went a little bit to the outside and then I was able to move.”

That’s where patience, persistence and experience entered the picture.

“It’s a trap that you can do two ways: You can swing wide, but then you’re probably going to lose because there’s only 80 metres to go. But having that composure and believing that I can still kick, and waiting for a miracle to happen so somebody can make an opening that you can go through. And it was very narrow. As long as I didn’t impede anybody I was happy to go straight and really fast. Once I was in there, I knew it was over. I looked at the screen with about 10 metres to go, and I knew that I had it. So I just started smiling.”

Still smiling after the race, Lagat further expounded on his lesson for aspiring runners.

“In these kinds of races, it always comes down to tactical races. And the ability to keep the kick and push until the last stretch. So you can just kick and go. And it was part of the overall strategy that worked out very well for me yesterday and today.”

With his third Cup victory in hand, Lagat hinted that this would probably be his last appearance at the world’s primary team competition. Or, maybe not.

“It’s been eight years now, since I won the 1500, in 3:31. Wow. And you’re still going to see me next time.” He paused briefly, then added, “But no, maybe not. I’ve done this now and I’m looking forward to another challenge. The world championships next year and the Olympics after that.”

And from hereon, it’ll be the 5000m that will attract his attention.

“I’m done with those 1500s. I’ve done it for a long time and I’ve achieved something in that that I’m happy with.”

Is there a tactic he’s not comfortable with?

“Something I need to learn is when they go fast then slow, fast then slow. But I shouldn’t say that because they might try to do that next year. But I don’t care because I’m going to train for that as well.”

Lagat was criticised in some circles for taking on double duty in this team competition. For those critics, he offered a parting shot.

“And a message for those people who thought I was a bit selfish because I ran two races. You know what, I wanted to come here and do the best that I could. And I’m happy that I did this. The Americas Team got 18 points and I’m very pleased with that.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF