By ELLIOTT DENMAN
ALBUQUERQUE - Back in 2011, when Deresse Mekonnen of Ethiopia fought off Bernard Lagat to
win the Wanamaker Mile in 3:58.58 at the Millrose Games, I cynically asked, "has Father Time finally caught up
to Bernard Lagat?"
On reflection, it was a fair question.
Mekonnen, after all, was already a two-time world indoor 1500-meter champion, seemingly at the top of his
game, and still just 23.
Lagat, after all, had been running on the world stage since the 1990s and was already 36.
This was the last Millrose Games to be held at Madison Square Garden and the handwriting was already
on the mid-Manhattan wall - attendance was declining on a regular basis and the meet that once routinely drew 18,000-plus fans was now unsustainable at a venue that large and that costly,
Lagat had won the Wanamaker Mile six straight years (2005-2010) before running into Mekonnen; the patented Lagat last-lap burst simply disappeared.
Well, three more indoor track seasons have flown by and check out some current events.
Number one, the Millrose Games have moved 135 blocks north in Manhattan to the New Balance Armory Track and Field Center, 168th St. at Fort Washington Avenue, and have been a smash hit in virtually every respect - led by quality of performance. The runners love
It and the fans love it; trouble is that only 4,000 of them can cram themselvesinto the former military
Number two, nothing much has been heard of from Deresse Mekonnen since that 2011 season. Check out the
most recent world lists - Mekonnen's name is nowhere to be seen.
Number three, Bernard Lagat's still winning and still winning big.
The absent big kick that night at the 2011 Millrose Games? Clearly, an aberration, a mishap, a one-night
Now 39 - and heading into his 40th birthday on the 12th of December - Lagat hasn't lost a step.
The man is a modern-day miracle.
On Feb. 16, he paid homage to the great Paavo Nurmi - himself a man who laughed at the passing years as he ran to glory for Finland from the early 1920s to the early 1930s (when he was tossed out of the sport for already archais amateur-code violations)-by winning the special Paavo Nurmi 2000 meters (basically a mile and a quarter) at the Armory's NYRR Millrose Games in 4:54.74.
This was an American record time, topping the 1981 Steve Scott performance of 4:58.6
And on the following Saturday, in the Land of Enchantment, he took the 3000 meters at the USA Indoor Nationals in 7:46.01, delivering the
typically unbeatable kick that brought him home in 7:46.01, best time ever run at the Indoor Nationals by an American. (Back in 1994, when the Indoor Nationals was still an open-to-all meet, Moses Kiptanui of Kenya had run 7:42.81.)
Never able to match Lagat's kick, Galen Rupp -still kid-looking at 27 and still unable to sprint with Lagat -
Rupp settled for second in 7:48.19, having just enough left to fight off Ryan Hill (7:49.07.)
So now Lagat goes to Sopot, Poland for the IAAF World Indoor Championships, running for
the 12th medal of his age-defying, rival-wrecking, career.
The Washington State University grad (who has been an American citizen since 2007) has a portfolio that now includes:
Olympic 1500 meters (running for Kenya), silver 2004, bronze 2008.
World Outdoor Championships, 1500-meter and 5,000-meter golds, 2007; 1500-meter silver, 2001, and bronze, 2009; 5000-meter silver, 2009 and 2011.
World Indoor Championships, 3000-meter golds, 2004, 2010 and 2012.
He will thus be running for his 12th global medal in Sopot, and nobody is doubting that he has what he takes to do it.
He is his sport's master strategist -always has been and always will.
His Albuquerque analysis:
" I was waiting for the moment when Galen was in the top (group), so that I could keep an eye on all of them.
" Halfway, I could see all the guys that I was watching in the front, and all I had to do was watch how they are running and be composed
and not make any mistakes, just go the way I felt comfortable.
" At 200 meters to go, that's what I did basically, held off the pace, and then made my move.
""Nothing is changing. As a matter of fact, I'm going to go and do good training even though the World Championships are really close.
"I'm going to do hard training, especially for this (next) one week and a half, so that when I go to Poland, it's just going
to be tapering until we start competition. "
His thoughts going into Poland as a defending champion:
"I want to see if I can do it again. I have the confidence. I've been doing good training right now. What I have to do is do what exactly
what I did tonight. This is like a championship race. That is exactly the (approximate) time that wins the championships.
" If I run smart and I keep an eye on the guys that are tough - the few Ethiopians I have been watching
and the Kenyans - I think I will be safe."
Don't bet against him in Poland.
And don't bet against him turning all kinds of extraordinary deeds well into his 40s
Just look at all the greats who did super things through their late 30s but then were stopped short once they reached the big 4-0 mark - John Walker, Mike Boit, Wilson Waigwa, etc etc etc. (Only Eamonn Coghlan - with his sub-4 mile at age 41 - has been able to hurtle through the "barrier.")
But just look at Father Time right now - he's running a poor second.