Kenyan-Americans make noise for Army at U.S. Olympic Track Trials
July 10, 2012
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- Kenyan-American runners represent U.S. Army in Olympic Trials finals
EUGENE, Ore. (July 10, 2012) -- The "Kenyan Connection" made a lot of noise for the U.S. Army during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials at historic Hayward Field.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, distance runners Spc. Augustus Maiyo and Spc. Robert Cheseret, both Kenyan-Americans, advanced to the finals in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5,000 meters, respectively.
Cheseret, 28, said he cherished the unenviable task of challenging older brother and four-time Olympian Bernard Lagat, 37, for the first time in the 5,000-meter finals on June 28.
The brothers lived together as youngsters in Kenya and trained together in Tucson while Cheseret was running for the University of Arizona, but they had never competed in a race.
"I haven't raced him. I only grew up to do what he has done," said Cheseret, who finished fifth in the first heat of the 5,000-meter preliminaries with a time of 13 minutes, 49.42 seconds. "I've been trying to follow what he is doing. I'm going to race him in the finals and it's going to be amazing."
Lagat is perhaps the most dominant distance runner in U.S. history. He is the American record holder in the 1,500 meters, mile, 3,000 meters, and 5,000 meters indoors, as well as the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 outdoors. He also is the Kenyan record holder at 1,500 meters outdoors. Lagat is a 12-time medalist in World Championship and Olympic competition, including five gold medals.
"In training, we did almost everything together except for racing," Lagat explained as to why the brothers' paths have never crossed at a track meet. "His schedule was different from mine, as a professional, and his as a collegiate athlete. When he finished running in college, he moved out to join the Army, and I was a professional doing my thing, so we never got to race together.
"This is the best thing ever because we are meeting together at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. We're just going to give the best we can for the finals. This is really exciting," Lagat added.
The 5,000 finale surpassed expectations when Nike's Galen Rupp out-sprinted teammate Lagat in the homestretch to win in a meet record 13:22.67, eclipsing the mark of 13:22.80 set by Steve Prefontaine on July 9, 1972. Lagat, who still holds the American record of 12:53.60, finished second in 13:22.82. Nike's Lopez Lomong was third in 13:24.47.
Cheseret finished 12th in 13:50.39.
"I think I went out a little bit too quick at the beginning," said Cheseret, who helped set the pace for several laps. "Actually, I didn't run my race, went out with the lead. I think I should have backed up a little bit and run my race, but I ran somebody else's race, and I basically paid at the end."
Cheseret said he tried to run with his brother but the pace was too fast for Cheseret's training, which was aimed more at 10,000 meters. He was, however, ecstatic to see his brother make another Olympic team and get mugged by his children near the finish line.
"I was so happy the first time to race him, and then see him make the U.S. Olympic team," Cheseret said. "And then to see the kids over there so happy for daddy. I was happy for him, too. He has given me a lot of advice and helped me a lot with my training. Even before the race, he was over at the tent talking to me. And during the race, he was trying to keep me with the pace.
"That guy is amazing. He does all the right things and he does all the little things. He is the best. I learned a lot from this race. I got a lot of experience. They were a little bit quicker than me today, but that tells me some things I need to work on in my training.
"I'm still young. Four more years, I should be ready to be on the Olympic team. I'm going to be on the 2016 Olympic team, that's for sure."
Maiyo's 8:29.29 clocking was the fourth-fastest time in two preliminary heats of the 3,000-meter steeplechase. He coasted across the finish line in fourth place in the fastest heat.
"The first two laps, I felt it was going hard," Maiyo said. "At the middle is when I started settling in, I guess. From there, my mileage carried me because I have been running a lot. On the gun lap, I knew I could hang on with those guys."
Maiyo, 29, finished 10th in the 3,000-meter steeplechase final with a time of 8:35.61. Evan Jager won the race in 8:17.40 and was followed by London-bound Nike teammates Donald Cabral (8:19.81) and Kyle Alcorn (8:22.17).
"From the start, I could (tell) that I was fatigued a little bit," Maiyo said. "When the guys started moving, I could not respond. The first two laps, I stayed in the back. I should have stayed at the front and tried to run with those guys.
"I'm disappointed, but at the same time, I am satisfied. I've still got some work to do. I will really work for the next trials. The WCAP program has given me a second chance to run track, and I love running."
Maiyo's sights quickly turned to winning the 2012 Army Ten-Miler, set for Oct. 21 at the Pentagon, and the 2013 Armed Forces Cross Country Men's Championship, set for February in St. Louis.
Without WCAP, Maiyo would not have been in Eugene for the Olympic Trials.
"When I graduated from Alabama, I didn't want to run any more," said Maiyo, who took nearly a three-year break from the track. "When I joined the Army, they gave me the chance, so I started running again last year."
Maiyo was happy just to be running in the final.
"Sometimes if you set higher goals, you might get pressure," Maiyo said. "I don't like to run under pressure. If I was meant to go to the Olympics, then I will go."
Cheseret was harder pressed to make the 5,000-meter final. With 200 meters remaining in his qualification heat, no less than eight runners had a shot at six guaranteed spots in the final.
"I had to push a little bit harder," Cheseret said. "It was almost like an all-out sprint because I saw three guys out there and there were three more guys next to me. I wanted to be in the top six so I had to sprint all the way through to the line.
"The last 600 [meters], the race started to pick up, and I knew that six automatically qualify, so I was trying to count three guys ahead of me and to make sure two more people didn't pass me. I tried to stay relaxed as much as possible."
"It was a little bit of a quick pace for me today," added Cheseret, who exhibited the ability to move from the rear of the field to the front and vice versa in a matter of meters. "The pace surprised me, because with two laps to go, it went like that quick," he said with a snap of his fingers. "I had to start to pick it up. It was a little bit hard to get back to the front."
Lagat said he could not do anything to help Cheseret to the front in the finale.
"This is going to be every man for himself," Lagat said. "I wish I could do that. If it was a semi and you just wanted to get a time, you could easily say 'Let me help my brother here.' But it's a little hard when you're also trying to make that team. This is my fourth Olympics, and if I just miss now, that's it. But my brother has a chance in 2016 because he is still young.
"I cannot push the pace because I have to make sure I have enough for the end," Lagat said. "If you asked my brother to do that, he would say yes because he's an Army man and he always knows you have to be there for your fellow colleague. For me, I'm like, 'Hey, every man on himself.'"
Brotherhood aside, Cheseret faced one of the strongest 5,000-meter fields ever to grace storied Hayward Field.
"I feel great just to make it to the finals," Cheseret said. "My coach told me not to worry about anything else. Just worry about making the finals and when we get to the finals, we'll worry about the next day."
Cheseret and Maiyo are joined in WCAP by fellow Kenyan-American Joseph Chirlee, who finished 15th in the 10,000 meters at the Olympic Trials on June 22.
"Actually, that is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us," Cheseret said. "Coming from Kenya, we went to school here. After school, we joined the Army. The Army helped us get our citizenship, and we're able to represent the Army and represent the U.S. and we're also training together as three guys from Kenya. That is the best thing the Army has ever done for us. We are really happy for that.
"To put on the U.S. Army singlet, and then at the same time to call myself a U.S. citizen, is like the best thing ever to happen to me."