Bernard Kipchirchir Lagat (lahGAHT), Kenya (1500/3000 m)
Born 12 December 1974, Kaptel, near Kapsabet, Nandi District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
Professional runner. Studying information technology in preparation for certification as systems engineer. Based in Tucson, Arizona, and, during track season, Tubingen, Germany.
Manager: James Templeton. Coach: Dr. James Li (U. of Arizona).
1.75m / 61kg. Native language: Nandi (Kalenjin). Fifth of ten children. Father a farmer with 26 acres; former veterinary officer. Several siblings have run internationally, notably Mary Chepkemboi (b. 1966), 1984 African Champion at 3000m; William Cheseret (b. 1971), a successful road racer in Europe; Everlyne Jerotich Lagat (b. 1978), 2000 NAIA (small US colleges) cross country champion; and Robert Cheseret (b. 1983) 2004 NCAA 5000m champion.
Finished Kaptel High School, December, 1994. Enrolled at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), March 1996; transferred to Washington State University (WSU) September 1996; bachelors degrees in Management Information Systems (2000) and Decision Science (2001).
Began running in secondary school. Defeated, among others, Laban Rotich and Mark Bett to reach 1994 Rift Valley Provincial Schools Championships, where he was badly beaten by Daniel Komen. Began serious training between school and college under JKUAT coach Nganga Ngata.
Ran 3:37.7 to reach 1500m final at 1996 Kenyan Olympic trials. Offered trip to Europe to compete but declined when offered scholarship to WSU. In summer of 1998, brother William helped him set up a few small European races, resulting in PBs of 3:34.48 and 7:45.28. Breakthrough came in 1999 with same-day double win (1 mile and 3000m) at NCAA indoor, followed by victories in NCAA outdoor 5000 and World University Games 1500, and then US college records of 3:30.61 and 3:30.56 on European GP circuit. Announced he would forego remaining college eligibility to compete in GP final, where he placed 2nd to countryman Noah Ngeny.
Failed to qualify for 1999 World Championships (7th in Kenyan trials), but earned place on 2000 Olympic squad and a bronze medal in Sydney (3:32.44) behind Ngeny and Hicham El Guerrouj. Finished 5th in Kenya's 2001 WC trials, but named to team after Ngeny was dropped for failure to report to training camp. Second to El Guerrouj in Edmonton WC (3:31.10), and second again 12 days later in Brussels in 3:26.34, breaking Ngeny's Kenyan record and climbing to #2 All-Time.
Remained #2 to El Guerrouj through 2002 but notched notable victories in the Kenyan and African Championships and the Madrid World Cup. In March 2003 just missed winning first global championship at Birmingham World Indoor, edged by France's Driss Maazouzi in tactical 1500. Appeared on course for second outdoor World Championship 1500 medal when season was cut short on eve of competition in Paris by report of positive test for the endurance drug EPO. Exonerated a month later when follow-up B-sample test proved negative.
Began 2004 with a move up in distance to 3000m for the indoor season, recording indoor PB 7:34.96 in comfortable win in Athens, and scoring first global championship in Budapest World Indoor (7:56.34). Returned to 1500 for outdoor season, starting slowly with 3rd in Hengelo (3:33.52) and 4th in Ostrava (3:33.61) before winning Bislett (3:34.08), taking 2nd in the hell-for-leather Kenya trials (3:35.7) and the speedy Rome GL (3:30.81), and then winning the Paris GL in world-leading 3:29.21 and outduelling El Guerrouj for a huge win in the Zurich GL in another world leader, 3:27.40.
After the Zurich victory, with El Guerrouj continuing to complain of “breathing problems,” many saw Lagat as the Athens favorite. And when he pulled even with the Moroccan off the last turn in the 1500 final, it looked like a repeat of the Zurich race—or the Sydney Olympic final, where Ngeny willed himself past the spent El Guerrouj in a very similar situation. But this time El Guerrouj held on, breathing problems or no, and Lagat had to settle for yet another silver medal. He betrayed none of his disappointment, however, enthusiastically congratulating the emotional winner at the finish line.
Yearly progression 1500/3000: 1996 - 3:37.7; 1997 - 3:41.19/ 8:05.43i; 1998 - 3:34.48/7:45.28; 1999 - 3:30.56/ 7:46.45i; 2000 - 3:28.51/ 7:33.51; 2001 - 3:26.34 (Brussels GL)/ 7:45.52i; 2002 - 3:27.91; 2003 - 3:30.55 (Zurich GL); 2004 – 3:27.40 (Zurich GL)/ 7:34.96i
Bernard Lagat remained stuck in the bridesmaid’s role once again in Athens. In the past four years at 1500 meters, he has ranked #2 in the world twice (2001 and 2002) and #3 twice (2000 and 2003). Each year he has trailed the world record holder and multiple World Champion, Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco. But this year something seemed different. Having never before won a Golden League 1500 (because of El Guerrouj’s near monopoly), Lagat won three in 2004, twice beating the Moroccan on the home straight. But the Olympic final turned out to be another case of El Guerrouj 1st, Lagat 2nd.
Lagat’s focus has been particularly intense this year because he’s striving for redemption after the humiliation he suffered at the end of last season. The "37 days of hell" he went through between the report of his positive EPO test and the negative follow-up can never be entirely erased, nor can the damage to his otherwise impeccable reputation. But he is determined to achieve even greater distinction for himself on the track and in good works, such as the Bernard Lagat Foundation, a charitable organization he established last year to help needy Kenyan student-athletes. Perhaps in Monaco, in the absence of El Guerrouj, he can win himself a consolation prize.
But regardless of the outcome at the WAF, the young man has another form of consolation coming soon. He has announced his plans to marry his long-time girlfriend, Gladys Tom of Vancouver, in October in Arizona, near where they live. There, someone else will be the bridesmaid.
Prepared by John Manners for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2002-2004.