Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bernard Lagat: Defying age or just breaking new ground?

Image result for bernard lagat 2016 trials
Hmm, final lap 52 high...and he's 41? What do you think? (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

Has anyone been paying attention lately? The guy wins the U.S.Olympic trials 5000m race with a closing lap under 53 seconds. He is 41. He is one of the all time greats, but still it is simply stunning . There are a lot of skeptics out there that are quick to judge. I will admit, it is very hard to believe it is all on the up and up. I just watched a video of a Golden League 1500m race from 2001 featuring none other than Hicham El Guerrouj. The race had a rabbit, who seemed to more or less do nothing to help the pace from 1100m-1200m . The 3rd lap was 56, they closed in 54. Guerrouj wins by a narrow margin, .12 off his WORLD record of 3:26:00. They ran the 2nd and 3rd fastest times ever recorded on that night. Since that race, only Absel Kiprop has come close, running 3:26.69

Fifteen years later, Lagat beats a lot of very good athletes in a 5000m race, catapulting from 6th to 1st with a 52high last lap. A faster final lap in a race more than 3x longer than one of the fastest 1500m races ever run. Even if the 2016 OT 5000m race started in absurdly slow pace, the disparity of which I speak is still clear from my perspective. When you factor that Lagat has continued to perform at his current age, you might make a case to say he is the best 1500-5000m man ever!

I want to believe that it is possible to continue to develop past your late 30's into your early 40's for some top rate performances. I am just not sure what is probable here. I know of one fellow who has run lifetime PB's and he's 41-42 right now, it's incredible, but he wasn't training at or near the level that Lagat has for his entire career. It isn't a fair comparison.

Perhaps very few coaches and athletes have known how to adapt training methods for older athletes for enough years with willing and able subjects available. Still, performances in track and field have certainly been put into question and not since yesterday either. Cheaters are just getting to be more clever as testing methods are improved.

You might be thinking, "Hey Mike, don't pick on Bernard, what about Meb or that Australian guy, he's 40 too!?" Well those guys are marathoners, and that is a whole different story.

Truly, I want to see Bernard Lagat come through with no funny business in his testing samples. It would be amazing. Longer careers for track and field athletes would possibly mean that kids could grow up believing a "Hall of Fame" career in this sport is possible, the kind where you see a 20year span of excellent performance year after year. Maybe Track & Field could be like baseball in that way. In another generation will it be common place to see guys contending for Olympic teams past the age of 40 against people half their age? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

What do you think? Let's hear it!

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