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Originally published Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Olympics

Ex-WSU runner Lagat moves on in 5,000; ex-UW vaulter Walker fails

Before he entered the track for his 5,000-meter qualifying heat Wednesday, Bernard Lagat got a text message from his sister telling him...

Seattle Times staff columnist

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BEIJING — Before he entered the track for his 5,000-meter qualifying heat Wednesday, Bernard Lagat got a text message from his sister telling him she believed in him.

"You have all it takes to run good," Mary Chepkemboi messaged him. "Don't worry about anything. Just run like it's your last race."

Said Lagat later, "Coming from Mary, I just had to do it."

Lagat, the former Washington State runner who became a U.S. citizen after the 2004 Games, has been one of the symbols for American failures at the Olympics' track and field competition.

Tyson Gay didn't qualify for the 100-meter final. Lolo Jones clipped a hurdle and stumbled out of the medal race. And Reese Hoffa didn't medal in the shot put, an event the Americans thought they might sweep.

And Lagat, who won bronze in Sydney and silver in Athens in the 1,500 meters while running for Kenya, was attempting to win gold in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters as an American.

He did exactly that last year at the World Championships in Osaka. But he finished ninth in the 1,500 prelim and failed to qualify for the final.

Wednesday night's 5,000 meter heat was his last chance at success. And, at 33, this could be his last Olympic race.

Lagat stayed alive. He kicked the last 100 meters like the old Lagat and won his heat in 13:39.70. It was the seventh-fastest time of the three heats and guaranteed him a place in Saturday's final.

"I ran all right," he said. "The pace was slow and I didn't want it to happen like it happened in the 1,500. I'm happy I won. It wasn't necessary to win, but I decided why not go for it?"

Lagat admitted that he has been bothered by a left Achilles problem.

"I felt good. I've had a few problems with my left Achilles after the Trials," said Lagat, who won both the races at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. "That is why I lost a few weeks of training. That could be the result of me not making the finals in the 1,500."

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He said he has forgotten his disappointment in the 1,500.

"It's gone," Lagat said. "I don't even want to think about it."

Walker can't clear height

Former University of Washington vaulter Brad Walker did not advance in the men's pole vault competition, failing to clear any height.

Walker, the American record holder at 19 feet, 9 ¾ inches set a few months ago and ranked the world's No. 1 vaulter in 2007, left the arena without speaking to reporters.

Walker, 27, is a two-time world champion and a five-time U.S. champion.

Walker, of Mountlake Terrace, passed on the first four heights, the only vaulter in the field to do so. He then made three attempts at 5.65 meters (18-5), and failed to clear on all three.

A mechanism that automatically lifted the bar malfunctioned, and there was a delay, which may have thrown him off. There was an uncomfirmed report that the U.S. filed a protest in the matter.

Walker wasn't the only one who lost in the qualifying round, as fellow American vaulter Jeff Walker also did not advance along with Olympic veterans France's Romain Mesnil, Israel's Alexander Averbukh and Germany's Tim Lobinger.

Elsewhere, Aksana Miankova of Belarus took the gold with an Olympic-record throw of 76.34 meters in the women's hammer and Jamaica's Melanie Walker won the women's 400 hurdles.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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