Not done yet. Lagat, Gatlin earn another trip to Olympics

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Posted: Jul 10, 2016 12:24 AM
Not done yet. Lagat, Gatlin earn another trip to Olympics

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A few more kids are on their way to Brazil after Saturday's racing at the U.S. Track and Field Trials.

In this case, they are 41-year-old Bernard Lagat's son and daughter, Miika and Gianna.

The American record-holder flipped the script on a youth-filled trials Saturday, running his final lap of the 5,000 meters in 52 seconds to charge from sixth to first and earn his fifth, and most surprising, trip to the Olympics.

Lagat, who won in 13 minutes, 35.50 seconds, will have his wife, Gladys, and kids in tow on the way to Rio.

Joining them there will be 34-year-old Justin Gatlin, who won the 200-meter final to advance to his third Olympics. He held off LaShawn Merritt and two high schoolers, Michael Norman and Noah Lyles, who stood as the latest examples of the growing youth movement in American track.

Already, there are three 20-and-under track-and-field athletes heading to Rio — Vashti Cunningham, Keturah Orji and Trayvon Bromell — with 16-year-old Sydney McLaughlin trying for a 400-hurdles spot Sunday.

But some of these old guys can run, too. And Lagat was determined to show he's not near finished.

"They were saying I'm done and cannot make the team," he said. "That didn't sound right to me."

That talk picked up last year, when the Kenyan-born runner missed his first worlds or Olympics team since he became an American citizen in 2005 — a failure he said "crushed him," in large part because his kids were pushing hard for him to make the trip. The murmurs came back after he dropped out of the 5,000 earlier this season at the Prefontaine Classic and only got louder when he pulled out of the 10K earlier in trials.

Turns out, Lagat has plenty of gas in the tank.

"We know Bernard Lagat will be done," said third-place finisher Paul Chelimo, "when he's not running anymore."

Nobody overlooks Gatlin, the world silver medalist at 100 and 200 meters, though he certainly wasn't center stage to start the 200-meter final — stuck on the outside lane thanks to finishing behind Norman in the previous day's semifinals.

Unable to see the competition as he worked the curve, it turned the race into what he called "a glorified time trial."

It turned into quite a showdown along the stretch, with Gatlin finishing in 19.75 seconds and edging Merritt — the 400-meter specialist who's pretty good at 200, too — by a mere .04 seconds.

"I said, 'You know what, if Lagat had the guts to go out there and do what he needs to do at his age, I can go out there and do what I need to do, especially from Lane 8,'" Gatlin said.

Like Merritt, Allyson Felix remains in the mix for the 200-400 double; she made it easily through her semifinal round. Like Merritt, Felix turned 30 in the past year. And like Merritt, she is an expert at pacing herself through the rounds in multiple races.

"Experience means a lot," Merritt said. "It's being comfortable once you get out there. Being able to use the nerves as positive energy. And knowing you've been there before and know how to handle it, it gives you a chip on your shoulder."

Lagat certainly had one.

Along with another incentive.

"My daughter said, 'I want you to win,'" Lagat said, "'so I can go see gymnastics.'"

Other happenings on Day 8 of Olympic trials:

HURDLES HOPES: Three 110-meter hurdlers with three Olympic medals between them will stay home for this go-round. David Oliver, the 2008 bronze medalist, dropped out of the final with a bad left hamstring. Jason Richardson, the silver medalist in London, finished fifth. And world-record holder Aries Merritt, the defending champion whose comeback from a kidney transplant was one of the most inspirational stories of the trials, got edged out for third in a photo finish. Going are Oregon track/football star Devon Allen, Ronnie Ash and Jeff Porter.

CLOSE, THEN IN: After he finished third in the long jump but missed the team because he came up short of the Olympic qualifying minimum by a measly centimeter, Will Claye said, "I sat in my room and I just couldn't believe it." But he licked his wounds, came back and won the triple jump. "Very emotional," said Claye, who won silver in triple jump and bronze in long jump in London. "I feel like I've been through so much to get here." Also going are defending champion Christian Taylor and Chris Benard.

OTHER RESULTS: Barbara Nwaba held an 11-point lead over Kendell Williams after the first day of heptahlon. Javelin sent the first, third and fourth-place finishers — Maggie Malone, Kara Winger and Brittany Borman — because second-place finisher Hannah Carson didn't have an Olympic qualifying mark.

NEXT TRIALS: USA Track and Field CEO Max Siegel said at a federation board meeting Saturday that, nice as it would be to firm up the choice, he's waiting to see how the finances play out with meet organizers in Eugene before deciding whether to bring the Olympic Trials back in 2020. Eugene has already locked up the 2021 world championships. Organizers told the Register-Guard of Eugene that there has been a budget gap for the 2012 and 2016 trials but it's not cause for concern.

QUOTABLE: "I'll retire before he does, by the looks of it." —24-year-old Eric Jenkins, who finished fourth in the 5,000 meters, won by the 41-year-old Lagat.