- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2008

BEIJING | Bernard Lagat waited three years to compete for the United States. A native of Kenya and a two-time Olympic medalist for that nation, Lagat has lived in America for 12 years. Last Aug. 27, he became eligible to compete for the American team and promptly won the 1,500- and 5,000-meter races - a first in world championship history.

Lagat, 33, will run his first Olympic race Friday as an American in a 1,500-meter heat at the Bird’s Nest. Although he has only the 22nd–fastest time in the world this year, he is considered a medal contender. Earlier this week, Lagat talked about his upbringing, coming to the United States and possibly hearing the American anthem:

“I grew up in a family of 10, and we didn’t have so much, but we had enough to sustain ourselves. We didn’t sleep without food. My dad was a family man, and he made sure we had enough to eat, and he encouraged us to go to school even from a little age. When I was at home from school, I had chores like looking after the cows, helping out my dad in the farm, same as my brothers and sisters.

“When I got to high school, my sister paid my school fees, and she encouraged me to be a good runner. She gave me my first shoes in 1992, and that meant a lot because I always looked at my sister as a role model, somebody I wanted to emulate. I managed to do that through the help of Mom and Dad when they sold land to buy me a flight ticket to come to Pullman, Washington.

“My trip coming to the U.S. was purely academics. I did not think I would be running at some point in the Olympics. It wasn’t my first priority. I got a scholarship to come to Washington State in 1996 and graduated in 2001.

“The journey has been really successful. I have my degree. I’ve been able to run in two Olympics. I live in America. I have a family. It’s a dream that a little boy from Kenya dreamed about, and it finally came true. It didn’t happen by myself; it happened because of the coach who sent to me to Washington State to my coach at Washington State to the scholarship itself, which came from the American taxpayers. My degree came from American money. Now it’s like I’m trying to give back to America what they gave me long ago.

“I started my foundation in Kenya to help poor kids who are very smart but cannot pay school fees. My foundation pays for fees for 10 kids in one year. The parents who come to meet me, I look into their eyes, and I see men crying because we paid fees for their son, who was about to be expelled.

“Winning a medal in the 1,500, a gold medal to be specific, would be amazing. That would mean my career has really gone good. I’ve won bronze medal and then silver medal. Since 2004, that’s the one I’ve been dreaming about. I’ve seen the YouTube tapes, and I’ve been watching them because I want to see that race, and I get motivated thinking about representing the United States and trying to get that gold. It would mean my career would be successful and would help me move forward in staying in track and field.

“We have athletes that will run for Qatar and Bahrain, and there are athletes I don’t know about who have changed and play other sports. After running for Kenya, I decided I wanted to be an American citizen, and I wanted to represent them at the highest level possible.

“When the American anthem is played, I feel enormous pride, the same way I did when the Kenyan national anthem was played. I’m proud of the American culture and America revolutionizing track and field. Seeing the American flag raised, I would understand their frustration [with me] and maybe shame. But I don’t feel any regret. I’ll be really happy if the flag is raised because that will [represent] what I’ve done for my country.”

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