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Experienced Lagat Ready For World Indoors

The reigning world champion is hoping to make it back to the top of the medal stand.

The reigning world champion is hoping to make it back to the top of the medal stand. 

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

At 37, Bernard Lagat is the oldest man by seven years entered in the 3000m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships which open tomorrow in Istanbul.  But the two-time Olympic medalist who lives in Tuscon, Ariz., sees his 15 years of international experience as his key asset which could deliver him to the top of the medal podium at these championships for a third time.  Should he be successful in defending his 2010 title, he would join Haile Gebrselassie as the only other man to win three world indoor 3000m titles.

“I am ready,” Lagat told Race Results Weekly by telephone from his hotel room in Istanbul today, waiting to find out which of the two preliminary heats he will be running tomorrow.  “It doesn’t matter which one anyways, you know?  These championships are really packed with guys who are really strong.”

Indeed.  Of the 22 men entered, at least eight are legitimate medal contenders.  Three athletes in the field –Yenew Alamirew of Ethiopia, and Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi of Kenya– have run sub-7:30 during their careers, while Gebremeskel, Soi, Britain’s Mo Farah, Australia’s Craig Mottram and Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro have either an outdoor world championships or Olympic medal to their credit.

But competing well indoors takes a special gift for positioning, Lagat said.  There are fewer opportunities to pass on a 200-meter track, and it’s harder to use sprint speed effectively with a homestretch that’s only 50 meters long.

“You have to position yourself very well,” Lagat explained, sounding relaxed after just getting a massage.  “The fact that in these kind of races it goes slow at the beginning, then it starts to pick-up the second kilometer, and the third kilometer will be like 2:23 or 2:24.  You need to really be moving fast.  So, experience works very well here because you have to know who is really the main opponent here and how they could run.  You need to put yourself in a perfect position where you are within the leading group.”

In his first victory at these championships in 2004 in Budapest, Lagat was still running for his native Kenya, and the final was very tactical.  Ethiopia’s Abiyote Abate took the field through the first kilometer in a super-slow 2:56.59, but Lagat prevailed in a fast finish by running the final kilometer in about 2:23.  His winning time was 7:56.34, still the second-slowest in the 25-year history of the championships.

In 2010 in Doha, Lagat had to run much faster.  Kenya’s Augustine Choge took out the field in a much quicker 2:36.19, and that pace held steady through the second kilometer.  Again, Lagat was fastest over the final kilometer (about 2:25), stopping the clock at 7:37.97.

As important as tactics will be in the final, Lagat said that experience counts even more in the preliminary round.

“The finals will be just a normal race,” he reasoned.  “In fact, you need experience more in qualifying.”

Lagat was reluctant to name whom he thought would be his most difficult opponents, but said he was “keeping his eye on a few individuals. I have about three guys that I’m marking right now in every heat.  So, it comes out today I know exactly who is who.”

Thinking about his legacy, Lagat clearly relishes the chance to join Gebreselassie as a three time winner.  Gebrselassie won in 1997, 1999 and 2003 (he also won the 1500m in 1999).

“Man, that would be so good,” Lagat said, sounding uncharacteristically boyish.  “It would mean a lot for my career, actually.  It would mean that I am among the top guys.  And, I remember in 2004 I was the first Kenyan ever to win the 3000 meters… including people like Daniel Komen, they didn’t win even one world indoors!  I was the first one Kenyan to win the gold medal. If I was to repeat it again, whoa. That would mean a lot for my career, and that would give me confidence in facing the same guys in the London Olympics.”

Win or lose, after this weekend’s meet Lagat said he would take his wife Gladys, son Miika, and daughter Gianna on a vacation, probably to Canada because six year-old Miika enjoys winter sports and is fascinated by the snow.  After that, he’ll go to the high altitude of Flagstaff, Ariz., to build his aerobic base for the outdoor season.

“At this point Miika is into winter stuff now, hockey, nothing but hockey,” Lagat said.  “So, we’re going into a place that still has winter going on, like Montreal or Whistler (in British Columbia), where he can play in snow.”

Lagat is a dedicated family man, and stays in close touch with his family when he travels.  He regularly does Skype video calls to his home, and his three year-old daughter Gianna is fascinated by seeing her father “in the computer,” Lagat said.  Gianna was also amused that her father was in a place called “Turkey.”

“We were talking on the Skype and (I said) … I am in Turkey,” Lagat recalled.  “She was like laughing and said, ‘Daddy, are you a turkey?’  She was so cute.”