The two-time Olympic medalist might be in for his toughest challenge yet.
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
EUGENE, ORE. — Since 2001, two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat has made the pilgrimage here to compete in the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field every year but one, 2004. His record? Five victories at three different distances, and he’s only failed to make the podium once.
But on Saturday afternoon, competing in the super-elite Bowerman Mile for the first time since 2010 when he finished ninth, the 37 year-old Lagat will face a field stacked with some of the world’s best milers who are in prime of their careers: Silas Kiplagat, Asbel Kiprop, Amine Laalou and Nick Willis. His long time coach, James Li, has tempered his expectations about tomorrow’s race given that Lagat is training to be in top form for the 5000m at both the USA Olympic Trials here later this month, then the London Olympics in August.
“It’s really preparation for the 5K,” Li said in an interview with Race Results Weekly. ”That’s definitely our focus this year. But, we figured a mile here, 1500-meters in New York (on June 9), and it will be a couple of short races, and that will set him up well in the Trials to do two 5K races (preliminary and final). I think that will be a really good rhythm and not overdo it.”
After finishing third in both 2001 and 2002, Lagat won his first Bowerman mile in 2003, clocking 3:50.21 and defeating Canada’s Kevin Sullivan by over three seconds. He finished third in 2005, then won again in 2006 in 3:51.53, ahead of Kenya’s Alex Kipchirchir and Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi, the 2005 world 800m and 1500m champion who was disqualified then suspended for doping after crossing the finish line first at the 2008 Olympic 1500m. Lagat finished second here in 2007 before moving up in distance to run the two-mile in 2008 and the 3000m in 2009, both of which he won.
Speaking to reporters here today, Lagat said that although he hadn’t focused on speed training recently, he was nonetheless in very good shape, evidenced by a four-minute 59-second 2000m time trial he ran last Sunday.
“I haven’t done a lot of speed work,” he admitted. ”But, I’ve been doing a lot of the longer stuff now. I did the 800′s, I did the 400′s, but 400′s were fast enough. But, I’ve done a time trial which give me confidence. Any time you do a 2K in under five minutes, that to me is a good indication that the shape is there. I’m happy with that.”
Lagat is coming off of an excellent indoor season where he set a new USA indoor record for 5000m (13:07.15), won the national indoor 3000m title with a blistering 25.42-second last 200 meters, and successfully defended his IAAF World Indoor title at 3000m in Istanbul, again by kicking home to a narrow victory over Kenyans Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi. Lagat said that his indoor success proved –again– that his age is just a number.
“I don’t think that I showed that I was old in Albuquerque, I didn’t show that I was getting older in Istanbul,” Lagat said. ”That doesn’t indicate that I’m old or anything. I still have the speed.”
Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s race, Lagat said he would enjoy running again for the fans at Hayward, and he said that this meet held a special place in his heart.
“I’ve been coming here every year since 2001,” Lagat said. ”I only skipped one, 2004, to go to Olympic Trials in Kenya. That’s all. It’s special because of the fans. They’re knowledgeable. They know the sport. They know everything. They know… what it means for someone to run 27 minutes for the 10K.”
Bernard Lagat – Prefontaine Classic Record
2001 (3) Mile 3:53.14
2002 (3) Mile 3:52.63
2003 (1) Mile 3:50.21
2004 Did not compete
2005 (3) Mile 3:51.53
2006 (1) Mile 3:51.53
2007 (2) Mile 3:50.56
2008 (1) 2 Mile 8:12.45
2009 (1) 3000m 7:35.92
2010 (9) Mile 3:54.36
2011 (1) 2 Mile 8:13.62