Lagat ready for racing fast
28 June 2002
A recent winner of the Kenyan National Championships, Bernard Lagat is tuning up for the European circuit. Will he finally defeat King Hicham?
The nationals are finally over! For the first time in my life, I can say that I am a National Champion! I am so very happy that my hard training is paying off.
I had arrived a few weeks earlier and trained in Nandi/Eldoret before flying to Nairobi for the final days leading to the trials. The flight to Nairobi was an interesting one for sure! My parents had never been on an airplane before, nor had they ever seen me run (live) before. I had told my parents that I wanted them to come with me to Nairobi and they agreed, thinking that we would drive over. They didn’t know anything until we stopped at the Eldoret airport and I surprised them by telling them we were flying. My dad acted really cool the whole flight, but my mom was so nervous! She held on for dear life and let out some little screams once in a while, but my dad just sat back and drank tea.
In Nairobi, I stayed on my disciplined training routine and did all the work-outs that my coach had written down for me. Sometimes it’s tempting to go and visit all my friends and then of course, stay for some tea, and before you know it, the day is over. But you have to remain focused on the training and not deter from goals of racing well in front of my parents and fans. My body and mind could really only think about the Nationals.
On the first day of the trials, my goal was to just run smart and advance to the semis. I did that by winning the heat in 3:44. Although it’s not necessary to bust my legs in the heats, I always like to try my best to have a winning streak going into the finals. The semi-finals were a little more difficult because I had the heat with all the strong guys put together. I managed to hold on for a win and was headed into the finals on my streak.
In the finals, the pace was slow and nobody wanted to take it. I had to also be patient and not use myself as a pacemaker, so it basically turned into a wait-and-kick strategy. (This was okay for me because Coach Li and I have been working a lot to prepare for this strategy if it were to happen.) I eventually pushed a little to separate the pack, and then made a sprint for the finish line. I knew that Chirchir could really put on a sprint after watching him at Prefontaine, so I had to just run for my life! Thank goodness, I held everyone off and won. My parents were happy. It’s funny because even though I am not a kid anymore, I feel like I want to be out there to show off for my parents. I want to thank everybody that came out to Kasarani and cheered for all of us athletes running.
I am still doing some altitude training in Kenya and will be here for a few more days. It’s frustrating because I like to always communicate with my fans and so I give lots of interviews in Kenya, but the reporters sometimes adapt my words and portray the situation not quite right. I like this diary because I can personally say what I want; I can correct what has been written about me; to set things straight…that I am NOT aiming for a WR in Paris, I did NOT change my coach, and I did NOT say that I would refuse to go to the Commonwealth Games even if I were selected. What I had said was that Paris would be a fast race because El Guerrouj and Noah were both running.
With regard to my coach, I have been training with Coach Li for the last 6 years, and will continue to do so indefinitely. Not only is he a great coach, he is a great friend and cares for me not only as his athlete, but like his own son. Contrary to reports, I didn’t ever threaten the KAAA and tell them I wouldn’t go to the Commonwealth Games if selected. I merely requested to be put on the African Championship team if I were to win the Nationals. (Luckily, they honoured my request) The Commonwealth Games is a great experience that I think that up-coming athletes should have an opportunity to experience. (I’ll fight them for a spot on the Olympic team, but it’s only fair to give them the Commonwealth).
Anyway, I know now my shape is very good. These three races at Nationals are perfect for bringing my body towards its peak, which I will need in coming weeks because I am running twice against Hicham El Guerrouj (in Paris and Monaco). I have raced Hicham many times since 1999 and have not yet beaten him, however my last two races (Brussels last year and Prefontaine this year……in which I was level with him with 80m to go) I have been getting closer and feel I will be ready to challenge him this year. Hicham is of course a great champion, we all know this, and it’s certainly no disgrace to lose to him. He has always shown me friendship and respect. But of course I want to beat him! I must aim for this; I know if I beat him I am becoming better and better……
But before meeting Hicham in Paris, I have another good 1500m in Lausanne next Tuesday. Chirchir is there and will be ready to run fast. I’m looking forward to the challenge; I’ve never run in Lausanne but I know it’s a very good meeting and the weather there at this time of the year can be perfect. I watched it on TV two years ago and remember a great 800 between Bucher and Said Guerni; another good 1500 from Noah Ngeny. I hope I can run as well…..