'Beijing failure fuels Berlin motivation'

'Beijing failure fuels Berlin motivation'

Athletics: Man on a mission

'Beijing failure fuels Berlin motivation'

 Double world champion in Osaka, Bernard Lagat says great American Jesse Owens’ exploits will give him the extra inspiration in Berlin.

Lagat is a double world champion from Osaka in 2007, when the Kenyan-born American became the first to win the 1500-5000 combo at the World Athletics Championships.

But things change fast in the sporting world and like fellow double winner Tyson Gay – who has been upstaged by Usain Bolt – Lagat fails to find instant mention when it comes to the favourites at Berlin.

Lagat doesn’t mind it one bit. “You can pick anyone as your favourite, that’s your choice,” says the 34-year-old veteran of three Olympic Games. “As for me, I am keen to be in the mix and hopefully, win a medal, preferably the gold.”

After his double at Osaka, Lagat was considered a leading contender in Beijing, but troubled by an Achilles tendon injury, he failed to make any impact at the Chinese capital. He was ninth in the 5000M and didn’t even make the final of the 1500. That is one episode Lagat wants to put behind him.

“If you look at my career, I have won medals at all major championships but I failed in Beijing. That was a big disappointment, and that is my motivation to do well here in Berlin,” says Lagat, who won bronze and silver medals for Kenya in the 1500M at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.

While he respects all his rivals, Lagat picks out the three Kenyans – Asbel Kiprop, Haron Keitany and Augustine Choge – as his main challengers in the 1500.

“They are all strong but I plan to be in the mix and then take it from there,” says the American, who has run a variety of races ranging from the 800 to 3000 to prepare for Berlin this season, with a best of 3:32.56  in 1500, his fastest since 2006.

Competing in Berlin, there is an extra motivation for Lagat, for this is the place where the great American Jesse Owens earned worldwide fame with his four-gold medal haul at the 1936 Olympics.

“When I put on the team uniform (specially designed to commemorate the event), I felt very proud. It makes me proud that this guy was able to do what he did in those racist times. He rose above all that, becoming one of the legends; he changed the mentality of people towards black athletes, he was a class act,” says Lagat.

A family man, Lagat will be running here with pictures of his two kids – three-year-old Miika and nine-month old Gianna – imprinted on his spikes.

While they will be cheering for him, there will be other supporters as well back home in Tucson, Arizona – a group of cancer survivors he supports.

“I decided to back the initiative of my neighbour (Anita Kellman) after another of our neighbours died because of cancer. I hadn’t seen anyone suffering from cancer till then, and it was terrible. I was with her just two hours before her death,” says Lagat.

“I am in the board of this programme and my wife (Gladys) also helps them out. We also organise races for the cancer survivors,” he adds.

Right now, though, his mind is focused on the task at hand as he prepares to defend his Osaka double. With the preparatory phase all over, what does it take to win a double again?

“Luck, positioning and strategy,” replies Lagat, keen to extend his medal-winning run to Berlin and beyond.