DES MOINES, Iowa – Fatherhood has done little to slow down Bernard Lagat.
The 38-year-old distance running legend turned back the clock and outkicked Galen Rupp on Sunday to win the 5,000-meter race at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at muggy Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.
Afterward, he spoke of the adrenaline boost he is getting from his children these days.
“Having my kids now going everywhere with me and cheering me is another motivation,” Lagat said of 7-year-old son Miika and 5-year-old daughter Gianna. “Like today, my kids have been telling me, ‘Good job, daddy, great job, daddy.’ And so you know what, if I can do that and get somebody to tell me that. That’s my kids telling me ‘Go, daddy,’ and being happy with me."
Lagat looked like a kid himself again, a far cry from the runner who last year battled a sore right hip. He was runner-up in the 5,000 meters at the 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., to hometown favorite Rupp, who surged past him late to claim a head-to-head victory for the first time in 13 meetings. Rupp, 27, went on to win the silver medal in the 10,000 at the London Olympic Games, and a new era had appeared to dawn in American distance running.
Not so fast.
Sunday’s race began at a languid pace as nobody in the field of nine runners wanted to be the rabbit. Lagat jogged up front waiting for the inevitable burst of speed. Finally, Benjamin True raced to the front and the chase was on for the final mile. Lagat caught him, and then Rupp sprinted to the front with two laps left.
This time, Lagat showed why he’s a 12-time medalist in world championship and Olympic competition. He regained the lead on the final lap and cruised to the finish line in 14 minutes, 54.16 seconds. Rupp was second in 14:54.91. Ryan Hill took third in 14:55.16 to round out the U.S. squad that will head to Moscow for the IAAF World Championships.
“I wanted to challenge myself and wait,” said a subdued Rupp, who won the 10,000 meters earlier in the USA Championships after a strong kick. “I got a little antsy, I think. I wish I would have waited a little later, but I’m not sure that would have made a difference. ... We looked at this as a great chance just to work on closing hard in fast races because this is what it’s going to be like the rest of the summer. It was good practice."
Rupp said he hasn’t yet decided what his tune-up races will be heading into the Aug. 10-18 World Championships. He finished seventh in the 10,000 and ninth in the 5,000 at the 2011 worlds.
Lagat wants to work on his speed and so will run the 1,500 meters in Paris, followed by another 5k in Monaco. It was there two years ago that he set his personal best in the event at 12:53.60, which also is the American record. He went on to win silver at that year’s World Championships.
The Kenyan-born Lagat said he’s feeling strong after a spring spent training at altitude near his Tucson, Ariz., home. He was gratified to discover that his legendary finishing kick hasn’t deserted him after running the final mile in 3:54 Sunday, summoning another gear when he had to chase down the fleet Rupp.
“It’s still there, man. It’s not going anywhere. That actually in itself is a confidence-booster,” Lagat said. “At 80 (meters) to go, I realized, ‘OK, I can go.’ And nothing stopped me from there."
Lagat and Rupp figure to be a force in Moscow, where a field including Rupp’s training partner and reigning Olympic champion Mo Farah of Great Britain will await. Lagat left little doubt Sunday what his expectations are.
“I want the shiniest medal, that’s gold,” he told a Japanese TV crew. “I’m going to go for the big one.”