-- In the short term, Kenyan Bernard Lagat wants to win an Olympic gold medal, and he is very animated about this. In the long term, he wants to work for Bill Gates and make lots of money, and he is very animated about that, too.
There is little, it seems, that does not excite Lagat, a scholar, Olympian and 134-pound shard of speed, but if you wish to be knocked over by a real tidal wave of commentary, the thing to do is ask him about his positive test for the banned endurance-enhancing drug erythropoietin (EPO) at last year's world championships.
Lagat, who will run on the opening day of the track and field competition in Friday's 1,500-meter heats, was booted from the event in Paris. His reputation was muddied, his successes questioned and his career in the sport jeopardized. In short, it looked like a fine time to send in that application to Microsoft.
Just over a month later, however, Lagat was cleared to compete again.
In an unusual twist, the two urine samples he had provided to drug testers at the championships did not match. One showed EPO. The other did not. Lagat, who proclaimed his innocence of using a drug believed to have fueled some of the best distance performances in the 1990s, was outraged.
Even now, nearly a year later, the subject seems to raise Lagat's pulse more than a lap around the track with his main rival, Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj, the world record holder in the event. When U.S. runner Michael Stember recently insinuated that Lagat was nothing but a cheater who beat the system in a West Coast newspaper, Lagat's agent threatened to sue. But Lagat, the bronze medalist at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, said the repercussions of his fury have been largely positive.
"The anger is still there," Lagat said. "The thing is, I want to use that energy to get me something good. This [year] is the result of it. . . . I've been running consistently strong the whole season. For me, it's Athens 2004 and I am a smiling man. I'm happy to be running again. It's what I fight for."
This summer, Lagat had the pleasure of beating El Guerrouj, whom Lagat referred to as "one of the greatest athletes in the world," at a meet in Zurich, setting the world's leading time in the process (3 minutes 27.40 seconds). He had a far less enjoyable introduction to American Alan Webb, the high school prodigy who finally has rounded into form. In June, Webb topped both him and Noah Ngeny at a race in Bergen, Norway.
According to El Guerrouj, Lagat was exceptionally gracious in victory. This week, he showed he can be equally generous in defeat. He said Webb was among the gold medal contenders in the event.
"That is a guy I like to see run," Lagat said. "I respect young kids actually stepping up to our position."
Perhaps Lagat's appreciation for overachievement is tied to his own experiences. For him, running came easily. Growing up on his family's farm in Kapsabet, Kenya, he sprinted a mile and a half to school each morning, and the same distance back. But Lagat's heart was in his studies. It wasn't until he began studying at Jomo Kenyatta University College of Agriculture and Technology that he got serious about sport.
He soon left the university for the United States when he received a scholarship from Washington State in Pullman. The school was seeking star African runners, hoping to raise the profile of middle-distance and distance-running in the United States. Lagat was seeking academic advancement.
"Education is important as it gives one something to lean back on, especially in this competitive world of athletics," Lagat told allafrica.com three years ago. "Life in the fast lane is very fast in today's world of athletics, and one is not assured of staying in the limelight too long. This is what I can tell my Kenyan brothers."
Lagat started a foundation to assist Kenya student-athletes with their education financially. He earned a couple of degrees in Management Information System and Management Decisions in Science. He claims to enjoy information technology magazines and political discourse -- along with the Kenya dish ugali from home and tea from his father's farm.
Now, though, running is his priority. He trains in Arizona with American distance runner Abdi Abdirahman.
"We've done a lot of preparation coming into the Olympic Games in Athens," he said. "The next thing to do now is leave it up to God and give 100 percent. . . . If I could give first position to Kenya, that would be really great."