08 NOV 2007 General News

‘Train hard but let’s keep the options open’ - history beckons for Lagat in Beijing

Bernard Lagat of USA leads the field during his Men's 1500m Semi Final (Getty Images)Bernard Lagat of USA leads the field during his Men's 1500m Semi Final (Getty Images) © Copyright

Bernard Lagat, the World 1500 and 5000m champion, has signalled his intention to try to go for the same double at the Olympic Games, in Beijing, next year. At the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, in August and September, Lagat became only the third athlete to accomplish the feat at a global championship and now he can become the first to do it twice.

Finland’s Paavo Nurmi was first to record the 1500/5000 double, at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, followed by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, at the 2004 Olympics, in Athens. Now, 10 weeks after Osaka, and having returned to training only last week after visiting family in Kenya and a holiday in Hawaii, Lagat is eager to repeat his World Championships effort.

Asked whether he hoped to tackle both events in Beijing, which would mean qualifying for both through the first three-past-the-post United States trials, Lagat said: “I am contemplating that, I think it is highly likely. Depending on how I feel, I am going to run the two events at the US trials (in Eugene, June 27 – July 6).

“If I qualify in both we (Lagat and his coach, James Li) will leave our options open for Beijing unless things happen down the road in training. What we are thinking is: ‘Train hard but let’s keep the options open’.” The Beijing timetable mirrors Osaka, in that the 5000m follows the 1500m, but the US trials feature the 5000m first.

Not so easy

Lagat said that, while El Guerrouj’s double had inspired him in Osaka, now he was his own inspiration. “When I decided to run both events in Osaka, I was thinking all the time of how El Guerrouj did it,” Lagat said. “He made it look so easy but there is no way it is easy. I thought: ‘If El Guerrouj did it, I can try my best to do it too’.”

“But it is no longer (a case of) ‘El Guerrouj did it at the Olympics and I am going to do it at the Olympics’. Now can I live up to myself – what I have set for myself. In Osaka I was living up to what El Guerrouj has set but now can I live up to what I have set for myself.”

 “Can I do in 2008 what I did in 2007? It’s going to be a big task and we have to make sure that we lay down all the strategies in order for us to win both, if we decide to do both, or we do one and try to win one.”

Nothing more strenuous than snorkelling

A Kenyan who became a US citizen in 2005, the 32-year-old Lagat lives and trains in Tucson, Arizona. Before settling back into training on 1 November, he took his wife, Gladys, and son, Miika, to see his parents in Kapsabet, Kenya. Miika – picked out by the cameras in the Nagai Stadium as he supported his father in a bright yellow tee-shirt with LAGAT! emblazoned on it – was meeting his grandparents (Richard and Marsalina Letting) for the first time.

“It was so good,” Lagat said, his face lighting up. “They had seen the pictures of Miika, and had an idea of how my son is, but seeing him - the facial features, him running around – it was so emotional.”

From there, Bernard, wife, son and his niece went on a week’s holiday to Hawaii where the athlete did nothing more strenuous than snorkelling. “I love snorkelling,” Lagat said. “It is something for me that is so different. I saw some big, big turtles – I am talking huge turtles, a lot of them.”

Their holiday over, Lagat went to New York as a guest of the ING New York City Marathon last weekend. It was there, after his break, that he resumed training with a 30-minute run in Central Park. “Once the season is over I just pack away my running shoes and never see them until November 1,” Lagat said.

“I don’t do anything at all. I just ride a bike with my son a little bit, maybe just on my driveway. Since 1998 I have timed my start to be November. I go for 30 minutes all of the first week – one run a day then eventually I will do twice a day and increase the distance.”

Nothing to prove

During his time wearing the vest of Kenya, Lagat won an Olympic bronze medal at 1500m at Sydney 2000 and an Olympic silver at the same distance in Athens 2004. He is ranked second quickest of all-time behind El Guerrouj at 1500m but his 3:26.34 dates back to 2001. Does he still aspire to run faster?

“No.,” he said without hesitation. “I think I cannot run 3:26. I know I can still run 3:28 and that is plenty good enough. I don’t have to prove anything by trying to run 3:25, which I know is not practically possible. But my time is in the books and you know what? I am still competing at the age of 32 and I am still beating the young guys.”

David Powell for the IAAF