ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For a moment Saturday, Bernard Lagat looked more like a halfback cutting through the open field than a middle-distance runner sprinting to the finish.
Cutting across the lanes to seek some space between lapped runners in the 3,000-meter run at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships, Lagat was able to find a path to the tape in a time of 7 minutes, 46.01 seconds to take his fourth title in the event in the past five years — only missing in 2013 when he did not compete. He finished 2 seconds ahead of longtime rival Galen Rupp and more than 3 seconds in front of Ryan Hill.
"With two laps to go, I was feeling really great and then I wanted to watch for Galen, who is capable of going hard, all out," Lagat said.
"And so when I saw him making a move, it was a good move but it wasn't a move that really was too hard for me. So I wanted to keep next to him until only a lap and a half to go and then go all out without looking back, and that's what I did."
Until the slower runners started clogging the lanes, that is.
"I was actually worried about that," Lagat said of the crowded field that had 20 competitors. "I thought, 'What if Galen or Ryan is going to sneak through while I'm maneuvering through all of these guys?' But I went all out. It was not going to stop me."
Age certainly hasn't done much to stop the 39-year-old Lagat.
"Being disciplined and also being able to train injury free is what actually gets me running fast," Lagat said. "Because, you know what, I can train hard because I am not hurt and I am not feeling like I am going down now because I was hurt somewhere. It's all discipline."
Gabe Grunewald won the women's 3,000.
"It's been a long time coming," said Grunewald, who finished in 9:23.15, less than 2 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. "Lots of ups and downs. But glimmers of greatness here and there, but I just haven't been able to have that race on a championship day. I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. It feels so good to finally see myself at the top."
Being at the top is something Erik Kynard has come to expect of himself in the high jump, which he won with 7-feet, 6½-inches.
"Every time I enter a competition, my goal is to win first place," said Kynard, who earned a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics. "First place is the first goal because everything else is irrelevant unless it's a win.
They don't remember the guy who jumped high in third."
A tough field in the women's long jump gave Tori Polk the inspiration she needed to win her first national championship.
"It's a long time coming," she said of the gold. "In the United States, ladies long jump is a tough event. Like I said, on any given day, it could be any one of us that comes across and grabs a title. To be able to come across with a medal was excellent. Those ladies come and they come to jump. Seeing those marks come across on the board, it makes you do your best you can ever do."