Bernard Lagat smiles at the crowd and says, “If I was to retire someday … ”
Lagat knows he’ll stop running one of these years.
That still feels far off, considering he narrowly missed a gold medal in the 5,000 meters at last summer’s world championships.
Lagat, who competed at Washington State University, plans to compete through the 2013 worlds – at least.
He won his first of two Olympic medals in 2000, a dozen years before the London Games in which he fully plans to participate. He’s won six medals at the outdoor world championships, including two golds in 2007.
“I’m sure even before 2007, people were starting to believe it: ‘Well, I think he’s slowing down,’ ” Lagat said Friday at a news conference prior to the U.S. Open at Madison Square Gardens in New York.
He may be slower in the 1,500, the event in which he first won major medals, but believes he’s still improving in the 5,000.
Lagat nearly chased down Britain’s Mo Farah in the final meters in Daegu, South Korea, in September, finishing just 0.28 seconds back. He earned silver in the 5,000 for the second straight world championships.
At Friday’s news conference, surrounded by athletes younger than 30, Lagat joked about being surrounded by these “young men and women.” He attributes his longevity to emphasizing quality over quantity in his training.
Lagat works out just once a day, six days a week.
Most of his competitors run twice daily.
“If you just go crazy twice a day every day, by Thursday will you be as strong as Monday?” he said. “I doubt it. But for me, I’m strong from Monday to Saturday.”
Lagat believes that’s why he’s still winning medals at age 37 while many Kenyan stars stay on top for only a few years while training many more miles.
“That burns them like crazy,” said Lagat, who was born in Kenya and came to the United States for college, later becoming an American citizen. “By the time they’re five years into professional running, the body cannot take it anymore.
“If I was to retire someday, I would look back and say, ‘Hey, I’m leaving my sport happy knowing that people in my country have stepped up and they’re doing the best in the world.’ ”
On Saturday, in the 1-mile run, Silas Kiplagat of Kenya held off Lagat.
Kiplagat, the silver medalist in the 1,500 last summer in the world championships, overtook the American with just less than a lap to go and won in 4 minutes, 0.65 seconds. Lagat, who briefly took the lead with a lap and a half left, was 0.27 seconds back.
Lagat won the Wanamaker Mile in the Millrose Games at the Garden a record eight times before finishing second last year. The 2007 world champion in the 1,500, Lagat now focuses on the 5,000.
“I feel like I was strong the entire way. The thing I take from this is I’m really ready now” to train to run a fast 5,000, Lagat said.
The 22-year-old Kiplagat and other young Kenyan runners were in elementary school when Lagat won his first Olympic medal in 2000. Lagat gave Kiplagat advice before the world meet in South Korea.