Aug. 29, 2007
Special report and photo by Paul Merca
OSAKA, Japan -- Washington State University graduate Bernard Lagat used a strong finish tonight here in the Japanese city to win his first ever world title at 1500 meters at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships at Nagai Stadium, in a time of 3:34.77.
The man many call one of the most consistent middle distance runners of the current generation entered these world championships having won two Olympic medals, and a silver medal at the 2001 world championships while competing for his native Kenya. However, the only medal missing from his resume of world and Olympic meet experience was a gold, and Wednesday night, that gold medal was added to his collection.
The gold medal won by Lagat tonight was the first ever in this event in either world championship or Olympic competition won by an American since 1908 when Mel Sheppard turned the trick.
Lagat was at or near the front of the pack for most of the race, but far enough to stay away from any potential danger, including elbows and getting trapped on the rail.
After passing 400 meters in 58.63 seconds, the leaders of the cohesive pack were current world leader Alan Webb of Reston, Virginia, along with Lagat and the Kenyan duo of Shedrack Kibet Korir, and Asbel Kiprop. Kiprop took the lead with two laps to go, passing 800 meters in 1:58.08, followed by Webb and Lagat. With the pack still relatively tight at the bell, it was Kiprop and Webb, running side-by-side, followed by Lagat in third with Korir on his inside shoulder in fourth.
Afterwards, a beaming Lagat said, "It feels great to be a champion, representing the United States. I've waited since 2004 (when he became a US citizen) for this. I can never be happier than this right now."
Coming down the stretch, defending champion Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain made a run at the lead as Webb and Lagat came around the outside. Coming from two meters back, Lagat sprinted cleanly to the front and went on to win in 3:34.77.
"My coach James Li (former assistant coach at Washington State, currently the distance coach at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, where Lagat currently resides) is a master of laying out strategy. He came out to my hotel room and said that you have the speed and the experience, and that's the most important thing. He said that you know what to do. I was thinking about relaxation the whole way through during the race."
"I wanted to be in the top three up until the last fifty meters. I was thinking to myself in the last fifty, `I think I'm going to win this, but I didn't want to celebrate just yet.' I've never been like this--I've always been a silver medalist (in previous world and Olympic competition).
Lagat will have very little time to savor his victory in the 1500 meters, as he will compete in Thursday's qualifying round of the 5000-meter run, an event in which he's won two US outdoor titles.
To watch a video of the last lap of Lagat's win and for more information on the IAAF World Track & Field Championships, please visit http://www.osaka2007.iaaf.org. For more information on Washington state-affiliated athletes competing at the world championships in Osaka, please visit http://paulmerca.blogspot.com.