May 17, 2005

Lagat Nationality Mixup

Two-time Olympic athletics medallist Bernard Lagat is now a U.S. citizen. On April 13, he announced that he had left Kenya and become a citizen of the country he now calls home. The Kenyan Sports Minister, annoyed by a series of recent defections, publicly called for all former Kenyans to be banned from training in the country. Enforcing that directive would probably prove difficult, but Kenya does have some ability to keep Lagat out of competition. Athletes who change nationality are required to wait three years before they can compete for their new country. If the Kenyan athletics federation agrees, however, the waiting period could be reduced to one year. Lagat acknowledged that he would have to miss the 2005 World Championships, at least. It was probably a tough decision, and surely not one to be taken on the spur of the moment.

But exactly when did he become a U.S. citizen? Lagat ran the 1500 for Kenya at the 2004 Olympics. To do so, he must have been a Kenyan citizen. But U.S. media sources are reporting that although his passport was issued on March 29, 2005, his citizenship was granted on May 7, 2004. Kenyan law does not allow citizens over the age of 21 to hold dual nationality; therefore, if the reports are correct, Lagat was not eligible to run for Kenya in Athens. Furthermore, due to the waiting period restrictions described above, he wasn't eligible to run for the U.S. either. So Lagat might be stripped of his silver medal from Athens. Kenya would replace Lagat's silver with a bronze for fourth-place finisher Timothy Kiptanui.

I haven't seen anything new about this story in the last few weeks. The decision is in the hands of the IOC, and it may not be resolved any time soon.

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