EUGENE, Ore. -- Bernard Lagat won this one for his kids.
The 41-year-old made his fifth Olympic team Saturday, overtaking five runners on the final lap of the 5,000-meter at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field.
Lagat won his eighth national 5,000-meter title in front of his son Miika, 10, and daughter, Gianna, 7, who are old enough to understand what their father does on the track. And like any doting dad, he would do anything for them.
“My daughter said, ‘I want you to make the Olympics so I can watch gymnastics,’” Lagat said of his little girl, a budding gymnast. “I made my daughter’s day today.”
He felt pretty good himself.
With a furious kick in the final 100 meters, Lagat finished in 13 minutes, 35.50 seconds to edge Hassan Mead (13:35.70) and Paul Chelimo (13.35.92). Lagat then collapsed in an emotional heap on the track after running his blistering final lap in 52.82 seconds.
Coming into this season, Lagat made it clear that this would be his final year on the track. After the Rio Olympic Games he will pursue a road-racing career full time.
Lagat competed for his native Kenya at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, where he won bronze and silver medals in the 1,500-meter, and for the United States in 2008 and 2012. He won the 1,500 and 5,000 at the 2007 world championships for Team USA, a difficult double, and also won four other world championships medals from 2001 to 2011.
Last year on this same Hayward Field track, Lagat did not qualify for the 2015 world championships team. Sick coming into the meet, he sputtered to a career-worst 10th place.
“Let me tell you, last year I was in tears,” he said. “My kids told me, ‘Daddy, you’re going to make it.’ They knew what I was going through. I was sick, not knowing how I was going to run. I said, 'Kids, I’m going to do my best and I’m going to do it for you guys.'
“It was the first year since 2000 I did not make my national team. That was huge for me. I wanted to do it for them and it was crushing.”
Lagat was sick again at the Prefontaine Classic in late May and dropped out of the 5,000. A blog said his “Prefontaine journey ends with the letters D-N-F.”
For Lagat, who attended Washington State University and had been running at Hayward Field since the early 1990s, his performance was dispiriting.
“You develop a certain relationship with people,” he said. “When I did not run well when I was sick, I did not want that to be the last image that people saw. Whenever I come here, I do not want to disappoint. Then the 10K happened and that was more disappointment.”
In the first final at the trials last Sunday, the men’s 10,000, Lagat couldn’t stay with the pace and dropped out past the halfway point. His coach, James Li, told him, however, that he would benefit from the race when he stepped on the track for the 5,000.
“I’m so glad it worked out for me,” Lagat said.
When he was introduced, he received an ovation from the crowd as if he were a University of Oregon runner.
“I appreciate what the fans do,” Lagat said. “They know that whenever I go into the race, I give my honest effort. I’m respectful of everybody, I race with a lot of integrity. Therefore, they want to see somebody like that succeed.”
Lagat bided his time in the race as two runners broke away and were eventually swallowed up by the pack.
“So, the last 400 meters was exciting,” Lagat said. “At that point, my head was just going through numbers. I was thinking one, two, three – five! ahead of me. I said, ‘Well, this is it. It is now or it’s not going to happen.
“I was feeling composed. My coach told me to not react too hard too early. He said, ‘You are to kick with 400 meters to go, concentrate, be patient and wait until the last 100 meters to go.”
Chelimo, who was born in Kenya, accelerated on the backstretch of the final lap, and Mead, a native of Somalia, tried to stay with him.
At 200 meters, Mead said, “I remember glancing at the screen and seeing Lagat just outside of my tail leg. He came around me on the straightaway. It was kind of a blur what happened on that last 80 meters.”
Mead caught Chelimo and thought he might get past Lagat, but said, “I ran out of distance.”
Eric Jenkins missed making the Olympic team by a mere six-hundredths of a second.
Jenkins said of Lagat, who is 17 years his senior, “I’m going to retire before he does. He’s a great guy with a great attitude.”
Lagat said his competitors never count him out when they know he is healthy.
“These guys, if you ask them, they say, ‘Bernard is going to be done when he’s not running completely,'” Lagat said, then Chelimo interrupted him.
“Bernard, let me interfere,” Chelimo said. “Age is just a number, don’t worry about it.”
Chelimo grinned, and added, “I’m hoping when he retires, I’m going to take over. Today, you won, but next time, I’m taking over.”
Well, Lagat still has Rio. And his kids will be there.
Maggie Malone qualified for her first Olympic team by winning the women’s javelin at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field exactly one month after she took the NCAA title in the same stadium. Malone threw 199 feet, 7 inches on Saturday at Hayward Field, which was a few feet shy of the NCAA-record 204 feet she threw to surpass the Olympic qualifying standard.
American record holder Kara Winger made her third Olympic team by placing third at 189-11.
Although Hannah Carson was second with a throw of 190-11, she has not met the Olympic qualifying standard and will not go to Rio. Brittany Borman, the only other U.S. woman with the qualifying mark, made her second Olympic team. She threw 185-6 on Saturday. Malone competed in front of a crowd about 10 times larger than her hometown.
“I’m out of words,” said Malone, who is from Geneva, Nebraska. “I’m from a town of like 2,000 with one stoplight. This is insane.”
Two-time Olympic medalist Will Claye made up for coming up short in the long jump by winning the men’s triple jump Saturday. Claye went 57 feet, 11 inches on his fifth jump to move ahead of Olympic gold medalist and American-record holder Christian Taylor, a fellow Florida Gator who went 57-0 ¾. Both made their second Olympic team, while Chris Benard, who jumped 56-5 ¾ for third place, made his first.
In the long jump six days earlier, Claye finished third, but did not make Team USA in that event because he had not met the Olympic qualifying standard with a mark that was not wind-aided.
At the London 2012 Olympic Games, Claye was the silver medalist in the triple jump and bronze medalist in the long jump.
Justin Gatlin became the first athlete at the Olympic Trials to win two events, capturing the 200-meter to go along with his 100-meter title. Gatlin ran 19.75 seconds to edge LaShawn Merritt, the 400-meter specialist who ran 19.79.
Ameer Webb was third in 20.00.
Both Gatlin and made their third Olympic teams. Gatlin won the gold at the 2004 Olympic Games in the 100 and the bronze in the 200. In London four years ago, he won the bronze in the 100.
Merritt is the 400-meter champion from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Noah Lyles set the national high school record with a time of 20.09 for fourth place while fellow high-schooler Michael Norman was fifth at 20.14. Tyson Gay, the former world champion, was sixth at 20.38.
Hometown favorite Devon Allen won the men’s 110-meter hurdles, then leaped over a fence and into the crowd to hug his supporters from the University of Oregon. The former NCAA champion, who is also a football player, finished with a time of 13.03 seconds, followed by Ronnie Ash and Jeff Porter. They both had a time of 13.21 seconds, but Ash was ahead by one-thousandth of a second. Porter made his second straight Olympic team, while his new teammates will be first-time Olympians.
Olympic champion and world-record holder, Aries Merritt, who came back from a kidney transplant last September to tell one of the most compelling stories this season, missed the Olympic team by a tenth of a second. He was fourth at 13.22.
David Oliver, the former world champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, was injured finishing second in his semifinal and could not compete in the final.