Osaka, JapanTwo years after gaining United States citizenship, one year after the early death of his brother-in-law, and only six weeks after he was suffering a sickness, Bernard Lagat made personal history in Osaka last night (29). Lagat’s victory, at the age of 32, was his first in an Olympics or outdoor World Championships after several near misses.
But, as happy as Lagat was for himself, his first thoughts were for his brother-in-law who passed away last year. “It had a lot of meaning today,” Lagat said. “My No1 fan, my brother-in-law, passed away last year with complication of diabetes. He would have loved to have been here and I told my sister coming here (to the track) that this is for William Lagat, my brother-in-law. This was my dedication to him.”
Watched from the stands by his wife and son – 19-month-old Miika Kimutai could be easily seen in his bright yellow tee-shirt with LAGAT! emblazoned on it – Lagat ran a faultless tactical race. After dedicating his victory to his brother-in-law, he praised his coach, James Li, as “a genius at laying out strategies”.
Fourth in the early stages, and third with 600 metres to go, Lagat made his move around the top bend and kicked for victory down the home straight. “My coach came to my hotel room today and he had the tape from the semi-finals,” Lagat reflected. “We watched it several times and he showed me exactly what to do after the mistakes I made, like getting boxed in.
“He told me I have everything it takes – speed, endurance and experience. He told me, whatever happens, just follow, don’t take it (the pace). He told me: ‘You know what to do with 50 metres to go – just go all out and I did it like that’.”
Bubbling at his victory, Lagat was a different character from the one who left the British Grand Prix - IAAF World Athletics Tour - meeting in Sheffield, on 15 July, still concerned at his health. Since last August, he had been feeling under-par and, after tests failed to diagnose his condition, he began taking medication in June.
“It was bothering me since last August but I did not know what the problem was,” Lagat said. “I had tests in Germany and the US and they said I am as healthy as anybody else.
“The doctor gave me medicine, not to treat anything but just to ease the pain and relax the stomach. When I stopped the medication, no problem. My body did not react well with that – I was a getting so tired, sick and nauseous and I would get dizzy running in the forest.
“They said from what you tell us about your training it could be the strain on your stomach. I cut down the training, kept doing quality, and it has gone away by itself. The last race I ran really bad was Sheffield. After Sheffield I stopped (the medication).
“My coach realised I was overdoing the training and a gastroenterologist said that I was putting so much stress on my small intestines and that is why it was hurting me all the time.”
At the double
Lagat, who has won only one race on the European circuit this season, will now attempt the double here, taking on the 5000m first round tonight. But that was not going to stop him celebrating his triumph. “I will celebrate tonight with my son, wife, coach and manager but I will back to business tomorrow,” he said. “I have my 32-year-old Goodyear tyres here they still work!”
The new champion’s sequence of near misses embraces Olympic 1500m bronze in 2000 and silver in 2004 (both for Kenya), silver from the 2001 World Championships and silver from the 2003 World Indoor Championships. But he did win the World Indoor title at 3000m in 2004 and, at 1500m, was World Student Games champion in 1999, African champion in 2002, and World Cup winner in 2002.
“It was a dream come true,” Lagat added last night. “But I didn’t know how to celebrate because you know what – this is No.1, I am the champion. I have never been like this, never, never. I have always come close but never been a champion carrying a flag. I am going to Berlin (2009 World Championships) automatic.”
Lagat missed the 2003 World Championships after returning a positive A sample for erythropoietin shortly beforehand, the result of which was leaked. He missed the championships but the B sample was analysed as negative.
Of that experience, he said: “I shut it out completely. I didn’t want to look at it, didn’t want to discuss it. It was the worst time in my life but, having a day like this, lights up everything. It lights the past, the moment, and the future. When you are a good person, and you are not doing anything shady, everything comes together in a very nice way.”
David Powell for the IAAF