As far back as 2010, Bernard Lagat couldn’t imagine going for a fifth Olympic track berth in 2016.
“2012 will not be the end of competition for me, but the end of my track competitions almost for sure,” Lagat told Universal Sports in September 2010. “If I was to go back in 2013, it would be like a farewell tour, just having fun going through places like London and Berlin and waving to the crowds that have blessed me with their support in my career.”
Yet the two-time Olympic medalist (last in 2004) and six-time World Championships medalist (last in 2011) still races. Lagat will continue as long as he’s competitive.
He placed fourth in the London Olympic 5000m final, after tripping around the final turn. He won the U.S. 5000m title in 2013 and was the fourth-fastest American man overall last year.
Now 40, his sights are on breaking 40-and-over masters records (which he accomplished in the 3000m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Feb. 7 and the mile at the NYRR Millrose Games on Feb. 14.)
Lagat said before the Millrose Games that he has the talent to win a medal at the World Championships in Beijing in August and make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team at 41. Lagat and Meb Keflezighi are trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runners of all time, according to sports-reference.com.
He felt people doubted him early in the 2014 outdoor season. Lagat was 14th at the Prefontaine Classic in 13:31.23 on May 31 and 12th at the Glasgow Diamond League meet in 13:27.08 on July 11. In between, Lagat captured his seventh U.S. 5000m title, albeit slowly in 13:31.41 against a field that didn’t include Galen Rupp.
Lagat was headed toward being outside the 50 fastest men worldwide last year until his out-of-nowhere 13:06.68 in Berlin on Aug. 31. That, plus finishing within .14 of Ethiopian Olympic 5000m silver medalist Dejen Gebremeskel at the New Balance Indoor 3000m three weeks ago gave him confidence.
“Would I really slow down that much that I wouldn’t make the team?” Lagat recently said of his chances for Rio. “I don’t think so.”
Lagat splits time training and helping raise his two children in Tucson, Ariz., where he’s seen Kenyan NCAA 5000m champion Lawi Lalang emerge to surpass him in workouts. Lalang, who finished his NCAA career at Arizona last season, is 17 years younger than Lagat.
Lagat is the same age as Hicham El Guerrouj, the 1500m and mile world record holder who retired after the Athens 2004 Olympics. El Guerrouj, who relegated the then-Kenyan Lagat to 2004 Olympic 1500m silver, joined the IAAF Hall of Fame last year.
Lagat’s son, Miika, was born in 2006 and is old enough to start giving Lagat strategy tips.
“I feel no pressure,” Lagat said. “Why do I have to cut it short why I still enjoy it?”