BEIJING, August 9 – Bernard Lagat tried twice and failed for Kenya but here at the Beijing Olympics he will attempt to at last land an elusive gold medal in the 1500 metres for his adopted country, the United States.
The 33-year-old struck bronze in 2000 behind Kenyan Noah Ngeny, while in 2004 he took silver behind the inestimable Hicham El Guerrouj, and it is the great Moroccan he will attempt to emulate as well as Paavo Nurmi in 1924 in landing the 1500 and 5000m titles.
He has already ended scepticism over his ability to handle the big occasion by winning the 1500 and 5000m in the 2007 world championships in Osaka, Japan, but is desperate to add the Olympic titles as his career winds itself down.
"I had to make the Olympics again to try and get the gold medal. I’m feeling so good and there’s not so much pressure now," said Lagat, who has been beaten just once this year.
"Last year I had problems with my stomach. This year I’m very healthy. I feel stronger so if I make the team in the 1,500 I’m going to pursue the 1,500 very hard because that’s my goal."
Lagat, who missed the 2003 world championships because he was told he had tested positive for EPO but in fact the B sample contradicted this leading to him being cleared, has also been fiercely motivated by his family – he is one of 10 siblings -, but primarily his mother Marsalina and one of his sisters Mary Chepkemboi Lagat.
"I made a promise to my parents, especially my mother," Lagat told the IAAF website.
"I told her I am going to win the gold. I talked to her right after I got my silver. She said you were third in 2000, now you are second in 2004. The next time is going to be yours to bring the gold."
There’s nothing like the wishes of the matriarch of the family to get one going but it was also the experience of Mary jetting round the world as an athlete that also stirred the passion in Lagat.
"My sister was a leader from the beginning. She respected my dad and mum but she was a leader," he told the website.
"Every time I looked at her I wanted to be like her. The way she was running, composing herself.”
"Even though she was 16-years-old and flying to Japan and Australia, she was composed.”
"I wanted to be the one flying in the air like her, seeing white people. I had only seen one white person and that was my priest. I think he was from Ireland.”
"My sister said she would support me. She said: ‘I am paying your school fees all you have to do is study and you will realise your dream of going to America’."
Lagat’s love affair with the United States began once he went to the University of Washington and gained a degree in business management and it is fair to say that compared to many of his equally talented then Kenyan team-mates that he is a far more eloquent figure.
However, his decision to take up American citizenship in May 2004 rocked Kenyan athletes who were struggling to provide resistance to the waves of Ethiopians taking distance titles – he though has no regrets.
Lagat, who splits his time between training in the United States and Germany, accepted he was the favourite – at least for the 1500 metres – but said that was a positive.
"It’s like another day in the office – you get out in the morning and do what you have to do. Yes, there is pressure and expectation, but I will use it positively."