Saturday, September 1, 2007

A conversation with: BERNARD LAGAT


OSAKA, Japan--On Friday afternoon, Washington State University graduate Bernard Lagat met with a small group of American and international media at Nike’s Osaka hotel.

Sunday, Lagat is one of three Americans entered in the finals of the men’s 5000 meter run, where he is not one of the favorites. Despite that, many observers here in the Japanese city feel that he could be a threat if the race comes down to a one-lap sprint to the finish.

"I feel like the big one is off my shoulders," said Lagat, referring to his win in the 1500 on Wednesday night. "I'm satisfied in a way [with one victory], but this race is still serious. I'm my own favorite for the final, and that's enough.

Lagat, the former Kenyan who owns two Olympic medals at 1500 meters has two goals for himself in tonight’s final, which begins at 7:30 pm, local time. The foremost objective is to win, and Lagat thinks he can do that off either a fast or a slow pace. A slow pace plays to Lagat's strength, and nobody else in the 5,000m final has that kind of speed. Lagat prefers a fast pace which would allow him to "do two things at once"--win a second gold medal, and also break the American Record of 12:58.21 held by Bob Kennedy since 1996. Lagat has a 12:59.22 PR at 5,000m, but even at age 32 he thinks he can go faster.

Bernard had little time to celebrate his victory, as he had to get ready to run the qualifying round in the 5000, where he placed third in 13:46.57.

“The key was to make it into the finals. I'm glad I did it. I need to save as much energy as I can. Of course there was no celebration after yesterday, but I did not have a good sleep, as the film about the 1500m final was running in my head,” Lagat told the IAAF media crew, before being hustled off to the ceremony where he received his world championship gold medal.


Take us through a season. When are you in Tuscon; when are you in Flagstaff, and when are you in Europe?

After the season, I go back to Tuscon, eat a lot, play with my son, and on November 1st, I begin the base training. I’ll start with no more than 20-25 miles per week, then increase it until January 1st, when we get serious because of the indoor season. After the indoor season, we take a few weeks off, then hit it again in Tuscon until April when we go to Flagstaff for eight weeks of hard training.

In Flagstaff, that’s the time when I start training in the morning and afternoon. Once that’s done, there are several races, including Mt. SAC, Prefontaine, New York, and the US nationals. After the US nationals, I go to Germany and stay there for three months until the final Grand Prix meet of the season. Once the season is over, the cycle starts again,

Where is your European training base?

I’m based in Tubingen, Germany. It’s about 20 minutes south of Stuttgart. Stuttgart is easily accessible for us (especially when traveling to meets in Europe); all we have to do is take a short drive up to the airport. Tubingen has a lot of good forests in which you can run; you can run north, south, east, west. It’s good for a runner like me, who likes to run long distances. I stay away from cement. The good thing about Tubingen is that there are a lot of different trails. I can do tempo runs, hill work, I can run on the flat if I want to.

Does your family come with you?

Yes. My family goes with me to Flagstaff. While I’m in Flagstaff, either my sister or my brother takes care of my house in Tuscon. It’s easier for me to train when I have my family with me.

Your title was a long time coming. Was it a product of a lot of experience, because you had to make a lot of tactical decisions at the right time?

Yes. Before the meet, there were a lot of people who were telling me certain people were going to be the favorite. But you know what? I ‘m my own favorite, because I have the experience, and I’ve been training so hard. I’ve been going up against the best athletes in the world, and know how they run.

My coach (James Li) is a master strategist. He really did the work for me. He broke the tape down from the races. We looked at it, we analyzed it, and he told me that you have everything it has to win. He said, ‘you have the focus; you have the experience’. He said to run clear, stay out of trouble.

You had some stomach problems earlier in the season. Are those problems resolved?

Sometimes, it comes and goes. I have my good days and my bad days. On the day of the 1500 finals, I felt some discomfort, but it only lasted a few hours. I’ve made sure to properly hydrate myself, eat good food. (The stomach problem) is a bit stressful because I don’t know what causes it, and it can occur at any moment. I think that it might be because of the stress I put on myself doing hard training.

What went into your decision to double here in Osaka?

Earlier, I was thinking of dropping the 1500 in favor of the 5000. I ran 2:21 for 1000 meters in a workout, and my manager, James Templeton, said ‘that’s pretty good!’ I gained a lot of confidence in that.

Lagat won the 1500 at the London Grand Prix meet on August 3rd, running 3;35.71 then ran 2:16.25 at the DN Galan meet in Stockholm, and those results combined with the way he felt cemented his decision to do the double in Osaka.

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.

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