Lagat boosts American running with first ever 1,500-5,000 double at world championships

Updated: September 2, 2007, 1:47 PM ET
Associated Press

OSAKA, Japan -- So much for tired legs.

American Bernard Lagat appeared as fresh as ever when he blew past the field over the final 200 meters to win the 5,000 title Sunday night at the track and field world championships.

He also won the 1,500 Wednesday, making him the first runner to double in those events at the worlds.

"Let me tell you, it's a dream come true," said Lagat, who also became the first American to medal in the 5,000. "I wouldn't have imagined when I landed (in Osaka) that I'd win two events. I was coming here to do my best."

The 32-year-old Lagat was contemplating a dilemma several days in advance of the 5,000.

Should he hold up two fingers on one hand to signify the two titles, or one finger on each hand?

He went with one on each hand.

"This means a lot to me," said Lagat, who became an American citizen in 2004 after running for Kenya in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. "I'll be setting an example for the young (runners) in America. There will be other kids born and raised in America who will do what I did. They'll be following Bernard Lagat."

Among the current crop of U.S. distance runners trying to follow his example, Lagat was excited for Matt Tegenkamp, who finished fourth in the 5,000 in his first world championships, a fraction of a second away from a medal.

"Wow. Isn't that amazing?" Lagat said. "I was so happy for Matt."

Tegenkamp, meanwhile, was upset at having come so close to a medal. He couldn't catch Moses Ndiema Kipsiro of Uganda at the finish.

"So close," Tegenkamp said. "This hurts more than just going straight to the back."

Adam Goucher qualified for the finals in the 5,000 as well, giving the United States three runners in the field for the first time.

Couple that with Kara Goucher's third-place showing in the 10,000 meters on Saturday -- and Alan Webb leading before fading at the end in the 1,500 -- and maybe it's not all doom and gloom for American distance running.

"There's so many pessimistic people who want to put up barriers and say we can't compete with the African countries," Tegenkamp said. "I think that's setting yourself up for failure. Over the years, we'll have a deep distance group."

Lagat's coach, James Li couldn't agree more.

"Hopefully, this is the tipping point for American distance running," he said. "Perhaps Bernard, now being an American, helped set the bar even higher and pushed everyone to be better. Maybe that's what American distance running needed."

In the 5,000, Lagat found what he needed despite running three rounds of the 1,500, plus a qualifying heat in the 5,000.

He didn't look remotely drained in the final race and can thank the field. No one pushed the pace to test how tired Lagat was, allowing him to sprint by everyone at the finish.

Li was stunned by how the race developed.

"It's almost like they just handed it to him," Li said. "It's like you win the first one (the 1,500) and they say, 'Here's a bonus.' It was perfect for him."

Kenyan silver medalist Eliud Kipchoge addressed that issue.

"I think I made a mistake in the last 50 meters," he said. "Lagat closed very fast and I didn't increase my pace. I tried to go again, but it was too late. Next time, I will keep watch."

Li doesn't know if Lagat will try for the double next year at the Beijing Olympics.

For now, they're just enjoying the moment. Lagat came into the championships with heaps of pressure having never won a world crown.

He leaves with two.

"It's a relief," said Lagat's wife, Gladys. "It's like two million pounds off our shoulders. He waited so long, sat patiently in line for this. All the hard work is paying off."

As her husband spoke at a news conference, Gladys Lagat was in the back, chasing their 19-month-old son, Miika, who was wearing a bright yellow shirt that said "Lagat!" across the front.

She caught him and picked him up.

"He's quick," she said with a smile.

Just like his father.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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