successfully defended her world title with a rout in the 200 (in which she is
the reigning Olympic silver medalist), running a personal best of 21.81
seconds; it was the fastest time since Inger Miller's 21.77 eight years ago.
Felix added two more golds over the weekend, delivering blistering second legs
on both winning U.S. relays. In Sunday evening's 4�400 she ran a breathtaking
48 seconds flat, faster than Florence Griffith Joyner (48.2) on her 400-meter
anchor in Seoul in 1988 and faster than Marion Jones (49.4) in Sydney in 2000.
Told of her split by writers, Felix, whose personal best in an open 400 is
49.70 said, "Oh, wow. I'm happy with that."
She had come to
Osaka locked in a battle with Sanya Richards, the U.S. 400 record holder, for
women's sprint supremacy leading in to Beijing. Both have expressed a desire to
chase multiple individual gold medals at the Olympics and both acknowledge that
they are not friends, adding an edge to their shared quest.
Felix is now
clearly the leader. Not only did she defeat Richards in the 400—Richards's
specialty—at a Super Grand Prix meet in Stockholm on Aug. 7, but she also left
Richards a distant fifth in the Osaka 200 final. (In fairness Richards has been
fighting illness for much of the season.) Now Felix can chase history; no U.S.
woman has ever won four track golds at the same Olympics. "Doing something
that no one has done before, that's something that excites me," says Felix.
For now, she will skip most of the late-summer European meets to get started on
her final semester at USC, aiming for graduation in December, 4 1/2 years after
turning professional in track immediately after high school. "She can
dominate both [the 200 and the 400] if she wants to," says four-time
Olympic sprint medalist Frankie Fredericks.
MEDALS ARE nothing
new to the 32-year-old Lagat, but he's not accustomed to gold. He took an
Olympic bronze in 2000 and a silver behind Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj in
Athens; he also won silver at the '01 worlds. In all of those 1,500-meter races
he competed for his native Kenya, but in Osaka he wore U.S. colors for the
first time since becoming a citizen in '04. (Lagat attained U.S. citizenship
three months before that year's Olympics but told no one.)
He won the 1,500
in Osaka with a brilliant tactical race, running a relaxed third, off a pace
set most of the way by U.S. teammate Alan Webb (who finished eighth) and then
blasting the final 80 meters to victory. "Bernard is a brilliant
runner," says two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion Sebastian Coe of Great
Britain. "And he's also got a bit of street smarts out there."
Four nights later
Lagat was handed the 5,000 by opponents who refused to force a pace that might
have burned the kick out of a champion miler. The first mile was covered in a
laughable 4:47, the second just under 4:30, still painfully slow for
world-class distance runners. Lagat bided his time in the middle of the pack.
"They didn't drop me with four laps to go, so I said now it's a mile,"
said Lagat afterward. "Three laps to go, it's [less than] a 1,500. So it's
all mine, then." He ran his last lap in 52.8 seconds and held off 2003
world champion Eliud Kipchoge, who grew up in the same Nandi-tribe village in
Kenya as Lagat. Behind Lagat, U.S. teammate Matt Tegenkamp missed the bronze
medal by just .03 of a second. The winning time of 13:45.87 was the slowest in
world championship history by more than 13 seconds.
But medals do not
come inscribed with winning times. Lagat, who arrived in the States in 1996 as
a distance-running recruit at Washington State, has quickly established major
U.S. milestones: first to win a world or Olympic 1,500 since '08; first male to
win a world championship medal in a distance event (5,000 or 10,000 meters) on
the track. If he is a vaguely disconnected figure—a native Kenyan accumulating
medals for a country that has struggled to be competitive in distance
running—he is also a symbol of something deeply American. "We're a nation
of �migr�s," says USA Track and Field CEO Craig Masback.
to be a U.S. citizen was not about track and field," says Lagat. "This
is where I met my wife. This is where I got my education. This is where I want
to raise my family." In the aftermath of the 5,000 he stood wrapped in an
American flag and said, "This is for the American people. I would love to
do this again for the American people." Consider it a date. For all three
of them. Next summer in Beijing.