Bernard Lagat, at 41, leaves Hayward Field with image he promised his family

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Moments after Bernard Lagat qualified to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time (sorry, Meb Keflezighi), he writhed on the Hayward Field track he has laid spikes on for nearly two decades.

His hands moved from atop his bald head in astonishment to outstretched, splattered on the track in exhaustion and finally to his mouth in admiration. His eyelids winced closed, Lagat blew a kiss and woke. The first thing he saw when he opened those eyes was a TV camera.

Lagat stuck out his tongue. Then he yelled in puffs, between hard breaths.

“Love you! … Gladys! … Miika! … Gigi!”

Those are the names of Lagat’s wife and kids, a 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter who were among the Hayward Field record 22,847 in attendance Saturday.

Family is Lagat’s motivation for running this one last season on the track, for enduring training sessions in the Tucson heat, for summoning that trademark kick to win the 5000m final at the Olympic Trials and qualify for his fifth Olympic team on Saturday evening.

They were also Lagat’s motivation one year ago, when he came to the U.S. Championships (also in Eugene) with an illness. Lagat was 10th in the 5000m then, way out of the top three that qualified for the world championships.

“I wanted to win it for them,” the 2000 and 2004 Olympic 1500m medalist Lagat told media in 2015, pausing as his voice cracked. “I saw them there, gave me a hug. I was going to do it for them.”

Lagat had failed to make an Olympic or world championships team for the first time since 2005, when he was ineligible due to switching his representation from Kenya to the U.S.

Lagat was proud of his Kenyan heritage, but he had lived in the U.S. since his early 20s, including running for Washington State in the late 1990s. He used to drive seven hours with his teammates and coach, James Li, from Pullman, Wash., to Eugene for dual meets.

U.S. Track and Field Trials: ResultsDaily Schedule | TV Schedule

Li, still his coach but now in Arizona, teared up Saturday evening speaking with media after watching a press conference with a bouncing, smiling Lagat and second- and third-place finishers Hassan Mead and Paul Chelimo.

“It means really, really so much,” Li said as his eyes watered and turned red like his University of Arizona shirt. “We worked together 20 years, and the last couple years have been really pretty tough.”

Lagat’s first reflections on Saturday’s feat were of the last year in particular, about the “crushing” feeling of his 2015 failure, about deeming this his final year of racing on the track (he plans to continue road racing).

He came to this month’s Olympic Trials — his sixth, including his first Kenyan Trials in 1996 — a decided underdog. Lagat had not finished a race since May 1. On May 28, he sentimentally ran at the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field for the 15th and final time. But he did not finish, dropping out of the 5000m with a cold.

“I didn’t want that to be the last image,” Lagat said.

Though Lagat is the American record holder in the 1500m and 5000m, those times came way back in 2005 and 2011. In Track and Field Newspre-Trials form charts, the respected publication had Lagat second in the 10,000m and eighth in the 5000m.

From what Lagat read, others weren’t giving him that much of a chance.

“This is the biggest achievement, because, at 41, a lot of people might have already ruled me out,” Lagat said. “I was reading my newspapers, and they were just mentioning me … and also Lagat is in the race.”

In his peak Olympic years in 2000 and 2004, Lagat was best known for his prowess in the 1500m as the top rival to Moroccan legend Hicham El Guerrouj. In 2004, in El Guerrouj’s long-awaited Olympic triumph, Lagat took silver.

Lagat calls El Guerrouj, who retired in 2004 but is actually three months older than Lagat, his greatest rival.

“Bernard has marked the Games,” El Guerrouj said in an email through his agent earlier this week. “He is a strong competitor, a man who stood up even after defeats, he inspires the future champions.”

Lagat lined up in the 10,000m on the opening night of Trials, and like on May 28, dropped out before the finish of the race. He quit with seven and a half laps to go, once he knew he wasn’t going to finish in the top three, to conserve energy for the 5000m.

“I’m done crying,” Lagat said that night, hours after 27-year-old sister Violah qualified for her first Kenyan Olympic team in the 1500m. “I’m going to come back, run the 5000 meters, qualify, that’s what I promised my son.”

Lagat was the 16th and final competitor introduced for the 5000m final on Saturday evening. He felt the thunderous applause from the record crowd.

He made that familiar kick to win at Hayward Field, his eyes popping out like so many times before. Then he remembered what his daughter told him.

“Daddy, I want you to go back to the Olympics so I can watch gymnastics,” Lagat recalled (they spent Friday watching the U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials). “I made my daughter’s day today, so I am happy for that.”

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

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