EUGENE, Ore. — Bernard Lagat used a 52-second final lap to win the U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000 meter title in 13:35.50 and will become the oldest U.S. Olympic distance runner in history at the Summer Games.
Lagat, 41, a four-time U.S. Olympian (twice for Kenya and twice for the U.S.), failed to make the team in the 10,000 meters on July 1. He rebounded by showing flashes of his signature speed in the first round of the 5,000 meters.
“I train with young guys and I don't believe that I'm old,” Lagat said after the race. “If you believe that you're old, you're going to run like an old man. They push me every single day and at the end of the day, they tell me, 'Man you make us really feel bad.' Because I don't give up. I train hard with them. What you saw today is exactly what we do in Tucson.”
His presence was recognized by the Hayward Field faithful, as Lagat received a louder reception than former Oregon Ducks Galen Rupp and Eric Jenkins during the athlete introductions. Lagat previously said that he will retire from the track to focus on road racing after the Olympics, and many considered Saturday's final to possibly be his last track race. Retirement plans are now on hold.
Watch Lagat's last lap below:
Rupp, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist at 10,000 meters, took the lead with about a mile to go and looked to avoid the race coming down to a kick. However, Rupp’s speed has not been as dominant in recent years. His focus has shifted to the 10,000 meters and the marathon, which he will race in Rio. Rupp finished ninth in 13:41.09 despite having an approximate 20-meter lead heading into the last lap.
Since London, Rupp has not medaled at any global championship, He finished fifth in the 5,000 and 10,000 at last summer's world championships in Beijing.
Joining Lagat will be former UNC Greensboro star Paul Chelimo and Minnesota All-American Hassan Mead. Chelimo clinched a spot in the final despite accidentally taking sleeping medication instead of Ibuprofen before the semifinals. He surged to the front at 3,200 meters and held onto the final spot for Rio de Janeiro.
Lagat’s resume is impressive
Lagat first competed at an Olympic trials in 1996 when he was still attending school in Kenya. He failed to make it out of the first round of the Kenyan national championships as he ran 3:37.7 in the 1,500 meters in Nairobi. Ten years later, he won his eighth U.S. championship at 5,000 meters.
Here are his previous wins, according to USA Track and Field: 2006 (13:14.32); 2007 (13:45.87); 2008 (13:27.47); 2010 (13:54.08); 2011 (13:23.06); 2013 (14:54.16); 2014 (13:31.41).
This Olympic berth surely makes up for last year’s major disappointment—as Lagat missed his first global championship in ten years with a 10th place finish in the men’s 5,000 at the 2015 U.S. Championships.
In addition to his U.S. titles, Lagat already owns Olympic medals from his two Olympics for Kenya. He is the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist and 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the 1,500 meters. His world championship medal collection includes two gold medals from the 1,500 and 5,000 in 2007, three silver medals (1,500 in 2001; 5,000 in 2009; 5,000 in 2011) and one bronze medal from his 1,500 in 2009.
His first Olympics for the United States did not go as well as he was knocked out in the first round of the 1,500 and finished ninth in the 5,000. He rounded in London with a fourth place finish in the 5,000.
Lagat is neither done nor finished.
U.S. Army WCAP Program doing well
The U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program Program now has four Olympians with Leonard Korir and Shadrack Kipchirchir in the 10,000, Hillary Bor in the steeplechase and Chelimo in the 5,000.
The team is coached by 2004 Olympian Dan Browne. Last week, he told DailyRelay.com that the group’s mission “is to place soldiers at the top level of national and international competition, ultimately leading to the Olympic Games.”
All four members who train under Browne are headed to Rio. Mission accomplished.
From Somalia to Rio
Mead struggled in the heat during the 10,000 meters on July 1, eventually jogging in lane 2 of the track at the 9,600-meter mark, dropping out of the race. He missed a chance to make the Olympic team in the same event that he qualified for at last summer’s world championships.
He returned for the 5,000 meters and allowed for his closing speed to put him on his first Olympic team. His 53.18-second final lap was the second fastest of the field behind Lagat.
Mead’s family emigrated from his native Somalia to the U.S. when he was a child. They settled in Minnesota, and he grew into a standout cross-country and track star at Minnesota, where yet he managed to still be an eight-time All-American, despite missing the 2010–11 season due to a collapsed lung.