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FELIX, 21, 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.
"My decision 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.