Friday, August 20, 2010

Uncelebrated Lagat adds another feather to her cap

Mohammed Amin | NATION Olympic 1500m champion Nancy Jebet Lagat (right) in action during the World Championships trials at the Nyayo National Stadium. Lagat rebounded from a poor 2009 season to win the IAAF Diamond League jackpot.

Mohammed Amin | NATION Olympic 1500m champion Nancy Jebet Lagat (right) in action during the World Championships trials at the Nyayo National Stadium. Lagat rebounded from a poor 2009 season to win the IAAF Diamond League jackpot.  

By CHRIS MUSUMBA cmusumba@ke. nationmedia.com

When she won the Olympic gold medal over the 1,500m distance in Beijing in August 2008, very few had any clue who Nancy Jebet Lagat was.

After all the only other success to her name before the race in Beijing was a World Junior 800m title in Chile in 2000 and a silver medal in the two lap race in 1998 at Annecy again in the World Junior championships.

After enduring poor form and injuries in 1999 season which ruined her campaign at the World Championships in Berlin, Jebet has moved to a new frontier to become the inaugural IAAF diamond League winner.

It was no doubt that she was a novice in 1,500m. But against the odds, she emerged from the shadows of race favourites Maryam Jusuf Jamal (Bahrain), the world champion, to strike gold and become the second woman after Pamela Jelimo (800m) to win gold for Kenya in the Olympics.

Coached by Italian Claudio Berendelli and married to marathon runner Kenneth Cheriuyot, winner of the 2001 Rotterdam marathon, Lagat failed to build on this success and construct her own empire of medal collections.

Failed to impress

Many viewed her as a one hit wonder and their assessment was endorsed in 2009 when, coupled with injuries and loss of form, Lagat failed to impress and lost almost all the races she competed in including failing to impress at the World Championship in Berlin.

Yet, the Kenya Air force corporal, whose father Joseph Langat ran the 5000m at international level, has turned the tables in 2010 and proved to be the real “lone wolf” left in the competition for Kenya. Well, the wolf has some bite in her and bite she can.

But she pointed out that it was not her father that got her into running but the teachers in her school in Eldoret.

“I started running in school because I liked it, not because anyone encouraged me and in 1995 I made the Kenyan team, but I could not represent my country because I was under-age.”

In the Athens Olympics, she went out in the semis and in Helsinki fared even worse by failing to progress beyond the heats. So did she think she stood a chance in Beijing? “No, I am completely surprised,” she said then. “I was not expecting to perform to the level that I have.”

That has not stopped her from dreaming and on Thursday night Nancy Jebet Lagat picked up her Diamond trophy after winning the battle of consistence against fellow elite runners to be crowned the Diamond race winner in the four lap event. For her struggle this season, she will take home at total of Sh10.m million ($1300,000) from all the Diamond League races.

Not even World champion Maryam Jusuf Jamal had the response to Langat’s searing attack down the back straight. Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka tried but she too was too weak and so was Russia’s Europe champion Anna Alminova.

Olympic 800m champion Wilfred Bungei said: “The world will be surprised at the effect Kenyan women will have on athletics.”

Three key players

The 1,500m women race has featured the same three key players - Lagat, Jamal and Gelete Burka - since 2008.
Maryam Jamal, the former Ethiopian but long-time representative of Bahrain landed the number one spot for a fifth straight year.

Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka won in Doha, Hengelo, Eugene and Lausanne, where she defeated Jamal in the Bahraini’s first 1500m race of the season. Burka lost to Jamal in Monaco and fell while leading at the World Championships, in Berlin.

Jamal began a run of victories with the fastest time of the season in Rome (3:56.55) and continuing with Athens, Monaco, the World Championships and Zurich. Britain’s Lisa Dobriskey stepped onto a ladder but only got halfway up before Kenya’s Olympic champion, Nancy Langat, jumped over her to the top.

Dobriskey took silver in Berlin, won in Gateshead, and ended Jamal’s winning sequence in Rieti. But Langat’s victory over Jamal, Burka and Dobriskey in the World Athletics Final, in Thessaloniki, ensured a repeat of 2008 when Jamal, Burka and Langat were the key players.

In 2010, Jamal has taken upon herself to impress. From Doha, where Lagat staged an outstanding victory in a world lead and meeting record of 4:01.64 to beat Gelete Burka, she has gone on to dominate the race. The victory earned her Sh800,000 ($10,000) and so have each of the other four (New York, Stockholm, London) races she has won.

She repeated the same chalking up titles in New York where she beat Ethiopian pair of Meseret Defar and Burka. Certain of her strong sprint on the final two bents, Lagat has used it to wrest the title from her rivals’ grip. In New York she clocked a meet record of 4:01.60.
Defar was second in 4:02.00, with Burka third.

She raced in Eugene, but over the 800m distance. Langat confirmed her mint condition after running a career best 1:57.75 for second in Eugene behind winner Mariya Savinova of Russia.

However, the race must have taken toll on her as she failed to stage the same brilliance in the final kick in Laussane. She was beaten to third but still set her personal best time over the 1,500m distance. Burka won the race in a world lead time of 3:59.28 which was 0.7 seconds faster than Ibitissam Lakhouad, a 30-year-old Moroccan. Lagat was third in 4:00.13, her personal best.

She returned to Nairobi for preparation for the Africa championship and missed the Paris leg.

However, the Olympic champion bounced back to winning form with a convincing victory in Stockholm after the hiccup of Lausanne.

She scored a third victory, winning in 4:00.70 Alminova, the Russian champion, who had achieved a runaway victory in Paris, and Bahrain’s Mimi Belete, who clocked 4:01.53 and 4:01.64, respectively.

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