Olympic Highlights You Might Have Missed, Part IV: America's 1500m Runners

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Olympic Highlights You Might Have Missed, Part IV: America's 1500m Runners

The United States came into these Olympic Games hoping to win their first gold medal in the men's 1500m since Mel Shepherd did in 1908.

1908!

In the international community, long distance races are dominated by the Kenyans.  So it would only make sense that the best way for Team USA to finally win gold in the 1500m was to have a former Kenyan become a US citizen and run for our flag. Bernard Lagat, did exactly that.

In the 2000 Sydney Games Lagat, running for his native Kenya, won the bronze medal in the 1500m and later, at the 2004 Athens Games, he improved his 1500m to silver.

That same year Lagat became an American citizen and began to run for the red, white, and blue. In the 2007 World Championships, he won both the 1500m and 5000m races.

Lagat, considered a gold medal contender if not the favorite, intends on helping Team USA to their first 1500m gold medal in 100 years.

As if his story was not inspiring enough, his teammate Lopez Lomong (pictured above) might have a story that even better embodies the Olympic spirit.

Lopez Lomong was born in Kimotong, Sudan on New Year's Day in 1985.  His long journey to the Olympics was only a glint in his eyes—and he almost didn't make it.  His life took a dangerous turn when he was only six years old.

Lomong was stolen away from his parents at gunpoint by the Janjaweed government militia and taken to a camp where he would either be trained as a soldier or starve.

After three weeks of captivity, Lomong was persuaded by some other prisoners to make a run for Kenya.  They got there safely, but since the other boys were too old they were returned to the Sudanese government.  Lomong, however, was saved.

Back home, distraught over the loss of their son, Lomong's parents constructed a grave for him, believing that their son was dead.

He wasn't. Lomong was in a refugee camp in northern Kenya where he spent the next 10 years of his life. And when word came that the USA wanted to adopt 3,500 "Lost Boys," Lomong entered an essay contest that would help him make the journey to the land of the free.

Lomong was selected, and was adopted by Robert and Barbara Rogers of Tully, New York.

From there he became New York state champion in the mile run. He attended Norfolk State University and then Northern Arizona University, where he won the 3000m NCAA Indoor Championship and the 1500m NCAA Outdoor Championship.

A month later he became a US citizen.

Since this time, Lomong has returned home to see his family and the grave site that was built for him.

Whether or he wins or loses, Lomong's most memorable moment came when the U.S. Olympic Committee asked him to carry the American flag at the Opening Ceremonies.  He represented an entire nation, a nation that adopted him, and all the USA Olympic athletes.

Lagat and Lomong were the best hopefuls for the United States to medal in the 1500m.  Both qualified in their respective heats, Lagat running a time of 3:41.98 and Lomong 3:36.70.

Yesterday the two continued their Olympic gold medal dreams in the semifinals, but the day would not go smoothly.

In the first semifinal, Lomong ran a time of 3:41.00, a time that placed him 12th and out of the finals. Lagat ran 3:37.79 in the second semifinal, a time that did not automatically qualify him.

In a post-race interview with NBC, Lagat was very confident that even without running his best race he was going to be in the 1500m finals.  Lagat, however, was wrong and his time placed him 0.02 seconds out of the top qualifying times.

Team USA's dreams of 1500m gold had vanished, along with those of Lomong and Lagat.

Lagat will have to make the decision whether or not he will attempt to race in the 2012 Olympics in London.  As for Lomong, only 24 years old, he stands a better chance of returning to the Olympics.

Though their experiences on the track did not go as the two had hoped, it would be impossible to say that these stories had unhappy endings.

One is a three-time Olympian racing for another country.  The other is a child given up for dead, but given a second chance at life.  He carried the flag for his adopted nation.

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