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Olympics: Lagat living the American dream

BEIJING, August 14 – Bernard Lagat has just fallen short in two previous appearances at the Olympics but the Kenyan-born track star hopes his version of the American dream will finally deliver him 1500 metres gold here.

The 33-year-old took bronze behind then Kenyan compatriot Noah Ngeny in Sydney 2000 and silver in the Athens 2004 edition behind the incomparable Hicham El Guerrouj as a Kenyan but he arrives at his third Olympics as a fully-fledged American citizen.

Whilst many in Kenya were not happy about his switching allegiance quite late in his career – worsened by the fact he pulled off the 1500m and 5000m double in the world championships last year for his adopted country – Lagat is not in the least bit apologetic.

"There are also athletes (Kenyans) who have switched to being Qatari and Bahraini, but I can’t comment on their reasons," said Lagat, who missed the 2003 world championships because of a faulty dope test which claimed he had taken EPO but which was later disproved.

"There are other nationalities in swimming and basketball for example, who have also become a citizen of another country.
"In 1996 I went to the States to study and I got my green card in ’98.

"I would like to point out that I went there in the first place with studying as my priority and not to be a runner.”
"Of course I wanted to run in the Olympics but it wasn’t top of my list. I wanted to become a citizen and I achieved that in 2007."

Lagat, one of 10 children of a smallholder farmer, said that to him it did not matter whether it was the ‘Stars and Stripes’ or the Kenyan national anthem that rang out should he win the 1500m title.

"When the United States anthem rings out I feel great pride in the same way that I did when the Kenyan one does," said Lagat.

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"I don’t know about other people back home (Kenya) and how they feel but I can understand their frustration when they see the American flag being raised.

"However, I don’t feel any shame or regrets.

"It is a case of a little boy from Kenya dreaming and then achieving it."

However, Lagat, who by the standards of middle distance runners is remarkably erudite, said that it was now time for him to repay his fellow Americans for what they had given him.

"I am really pleased I got my academic qualifications at the expense of the US taxpayers," he said.

"I am now trying to give back to the taxpayers what they gave to me by delivering them an Olympic gold medal.

"The only thing I have to complain about as regards my university (Washington State) was that it was a little too cold for me," said the father of one, who now resides for most of the year with his wife in the warmer climes of Tucson, Arizona.

However, Lagat has not forgotten his roots totally and has started up a charitable foundation for young children in Kenya.
"One of my elder sisters paid for me to go to school and so I thought of all those children that like me cannot afford to have an education even though they are intelligent enough to deserve one," said Lagat.

"Thus I or my Foundation pay for 10 kids to go to school a year, whose parents cannot afford to pay for their education.
"You cannot imagine the feeling I have when you are sat opposite a man who is crying with joy because you have saved his child from being expelled from school for lack of funds."

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