|Bernard Lagat, a US citizen since 2004, celebrates after becoming the first American to win a world 1,500-meter title. (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)|
Lagat runs dream race
Veteran captures first 1,500 title
OSAKA, Japan -- In his first big race as an American, Bernard Lagat won the world championship that had long eluded him.
His stirring victory in the 1,500 meters last night was something he never quite accomplished as a Kenyan.
"This is a dream come true," the 32-year-old runner said. "I'm a champion for the United States of America."
Lagat, an American citizen since 2004, became the first US runner to win a world 1,500-meter championship.
"When you're carrying this flag, it means a lot," Lagat said. "You're representing everybody, the victims of Katrina, everybody. Those who are serving in the war in Iraq. This is for everybody in the United States."
No American has won an Olympic gold medal in the event since Mel Sheppard in 1908.
"I didn't know the statistics until I was reading on the Internet yesterday," Lagat said. "Crazy me, searching the net. I read that nobody has won since 1908, that means 99 years and I'm a champion."
Lagat's history had been one of "almost" in major events. He lost to the great Hicham El Guerrouj by .12 seconds in the 1,500 at the Athens Olympics. He won the bronze in the 2000 Olympics, and was second to El Guerrouj at the 2001 worlds in Edmonton.
"I'm champion," he said. "I've never been a champion -- never, never. I've always come close."
The night was bitter for teammate Alan Webb, the 24-year-old who entered the race with the top time in the world this year. Webb led much of the race but faded to eighth. "Just a colossal breakdown," he said.
Lagat's triumph and defending champion Michelle Perry's close victory over Canadian Perdita Felicien in the 100-meter hurdles gave the United States 10 medals, five of them gold, at these championships.
In the 1,500, Webb took the lead early and stayed there for much of the race. But with 50 meters to go, virtually the entire pack passed him. Lagat shot to the lead from the outside, just as he had done in the semifinals.
He won in 3 minutes 44.77 seconds.
Biologically, it was a Kenyan sweep. Kenyan-born Rashid Ramzi was second, running for Brunei. Shedrack Kibet Korir of Kenya was third.
Lagat has lived in the United States since 1996, when he enrolled at Washington State. He has long made his home in Tucson, Ariz. He announced in 2005 that he would run as an American. He didn't become eligible to compete for the US in a world championships or Olympics until Saturday.
"Congratulations," Webb said, "his first world title. He's been around this sport a long time, and my hat goes off to him. He ran a great race."
Perry barely defended her 100-meter hurdle title, leaning across the line with a style learned from coach Bob Kersee.
"A Bobby Kersee lean, the BK lean," Perry said, laughing.
Perry was timed in 12.46 seconds, Felicien in 12.49. American Ginnie Powell, who has a hairline fracture in her left knee, was a distant fifth in 12.55.
Despite complaints that he's a bit weary and has a sore left hamstring, 100-meter champion Tyson Gay won both his 200-meter heats, including a 20-second dash in the semifinals.
Also, the stage was set for a US sweep of the men's 400 when Jeremy Wariner, Angelo Taylor, and LaShawn Merritt each won his semifinal heat.