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Bernard Lagat Tests Positive for EPO
September 3, 2003

The Daily Nation newspaper in Kenyan reported late yesterday that Bernard Lagat, the #2 fastest ever at 1500m tested positive for the performance enhancing drug EPO prior to the World Championships. Lagat pulled out of the World Championships with an unknown stomach ailment that apparently was a charade adopted by the Kenyan Federation in order not to diminish the morale of the rest of the Kenyan team. In the middle of the world champs, Lagat was ordered out of the Kenyan camp for unspecified reasons at the time. To read the full report on the positive test by the Daily Nation click here.

Attempts to contact Lagat or his agent James Templeton were unsuccessful yesterday. We were however able to contact Lagat's coach, Dr. James Li, the cross country coach at the University of Arizona. Dr. Li was shocked about the news of the positive test and said he knew nothing about it until we informed him. Dr. Li did not want to make any comments on the record until he found out more details on the matter as we were the first to notify him.  He did stress that drugs do not have a place in sport.

Lagat attended Washington State University, graduating in 1999 with two degrees (Management Information Systems, and Decision Science (Econometrics)). Although never an outdoor 1500m champion while in college, Lagat won the indoor mile and 3k titles in 1999. In 1998, he ran a 3:34.48 1500m in the summer before his senior year. When interviewed by LetsRun.com prior to this year's adidas Boston indoor meet, Lagat called that race a turning point in his career. He said, "when I ran 3:34, that was a turn around for me, (it showed) what I should do in my training to become a world class athlete. So from there I changed my training. In 1999, I ran 3:30; the (next) year 2000, (I got) a bronze medal (in the Olympics)."  

In 2001, Lagat had arguably the greatest race of his life when he chased Hicham El Guerrouj to the line in Brussels when Guerrouj ran 3:26:12 the second fastest 1500 ever. Lagat was right behind him in 3:26.34, to become the #2 all time performer in the event. When asked what he was thinking during the race Lagat replied, "Almost nothing. I was just trying to break 3:30. That was the end of everything, the season, so I said 'I'm going to hang on with El Guerrouj today, it's going to be fast.' And I hung onto him."

Lagat's 2003 European campaign had started off on a slow note, with a 5th place showing in Ostrava in June, then losing to Cornelius Chirchir in Lausanne and Mehdi Baala in Paris, before a 3rd place finish in the Kenyan Trials for the world champs. However, his form appeared to be rounding into gear nicely for the World Champs when he returned to Europe with a win in Lausanne and a personal best for the year for 2nd place behind Guerrouj at the Weltklasse meet. Apparently it was at the Weltklasse meet on August 15th where Lagat tested positive for EPO.

EPO is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that stimulates the body to produce more red blood cells. Artificial EPO is used by athletes to increase their rood blood cells and improve their performance in endurance events. It is a very difficult drug for drug testers to detect and a test for it has only been around since 2000. Bicycling, cross-country skiing, and track and field have all seen prominent athletes busted for this drug. Brahim Boulami, the world record holder in the steeplechase, and Mohammed Mourhit, the former world cross country champion, are the two most prominent names in track and field to test positive for EPO. This spring however, Pamela Chepchumba, became the first Kenya to test positive for the drug. Her positive sent shockwaves through the running community because a few prominent (but naive) historians of the sport had argued that Kenyan athletes would never use drugs.

Lagat still must have his B sample confirmed before he is sanctioned with a drug offense. But if his B sample comes back positive, it will send much bigger shockwaves through the distance running community in the United States than perhaps any positive drug test before. For the intelligent and affable Lagat went to school here and was known and liked by many. As one poster on our message board said "i was teammates with lagat at washington state and i am shocked. i can't believe that this is true. he was such a nice, genuine guy -- the last person i'd ever expect to be on drugs."

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