EUGENE, Ore. (June 28, 2012) -- The "Kenyan Connection" struck twice for the U.S. Army on June 25, 2012, at the 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, will cherish the unenviable task of challenging older brother Bernard Lagat, a 12-time medalist in the World Championships and Olympics, for the first time in the 5,000-meter finals, scheduled for June 28 at 7:38 p.m. PT.
BROTHERS TO RACE FIRST TIME
The brothers lived together as youngsters in Kenya and trained together in Tucson while Cheseret was running for the University of Arizona, but they have never competed together in a race.
"Oh, man, it's going to be exciting," 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 haven't raced him. I only grew up to do what he has done.
"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 exciting. It's going to be amazing."
Lagat, 37, is 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 said. He explained 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."
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. That's when I decided to get to number three. It's exciting to get to the finals, but I don't have a lot of expectations.
"I came just to enjoy the race, not to add pressure to it. I just wanted to see where I am with these guys."
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 is happy just to be running in the final tonight.
"I don't have any plans," he said. "I'll just decide what to do when I get on the track. That's the best way to find out.
"Sometimes if you set higher goals, you might get pressure. I don't like running under pressure. If I was meant to go to the Olympics, then I will go. For the finals, I do want to run my seasonal best, and that might get me somewhere. I can do it. I am fit."
SPRINTING OUT 5,000 METERS
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."
ONLY SO MUCH BROTHERLY LOVE
Lagat said he cannot 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 hope my brother will be up there. I hope when it comes down to that kick, that he will be able to hold onto that because he doesn't have the A standard. Then we have to have the race go fast so my brother can get in [the Olympics]."
Lagat said he cannot control that, either.
"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.'"
FIGHTING THE PRESSURE
Brotherhood aside, Cheseret will face one of the strongest 5,000-meter fields in the world tonight.
"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.
"I feel in good shape, so we'll see what's going to happen in the finals. There are a lot of tough guys out here, but we're going to go and give it 100 percent. That's all I can do."
Cheseret said the most difficult part of this journey was qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials.
"The most pressure was to qualify for these trials because we were chasing the [Olympic] A standard," he said. "That's the most pressure. Right now, they told us not to worry about anything else, just feel free and relaxed. That's how you do your best, by running relaxed. There's a little bit of pressure to make the team, but at the same time you try to tell yourself to stay relaxed."
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."
Lagat said it could get even better tonight.
"If we were both to make the team, that would be unbelievable," he said. "That would be something great. I'm sure my mother back home and my father would be really, really happy, excited about the two boys in America making America proud and of course making the entire family happy."