Running legend Bernard Lagat, two others to serve as Wildcats’ interim cross country coaches
Olympic running legend Bernard Lagat is one of three interim coaches who will lead the UA cross country teams following the retirement of James Li and departure of his assistant coach, Hanna Peterson.
The UA announced the hiring of Lagat and former Catalina Foothills High School coach Doug Keen on Friday. The pair will join Dave Murray, who was previously announced as Li’s replacement through the end of the 2020-21 cross country season.
Li’s retirement and Peterson’s departure come on the heels of an athletic department investigation into the team’s culture following complaints from several current and former distance runners.
Lagat, a two-time Olympic medalist and 11-time All-American, has been a volunteer assistant coach at the UA for 15 years.
Since 2000, Lagat — who turns 46 next month — has competed in five Olympic Games. Earlier this year, he qualified for the since-delayed 2020 Olympics. In the 2004 Olympics, Lagat won a silver medal in the 1,500 meters. He won a bronze medal in the same event in 2000, finished fourth in the 5,000 meters at the 2012 Olympics and fifth in 2016 At the world championships, Lagat has won two gold medals, three silver medals and one bronze.
The Kenyan-born Lagat became a U.S. resident in 1996. He graduated from Washington State, where he ran for Li.
Keen is a professor in the UA’s physiology department. He ran distance events at the University of Arkansas, where he was a member of two national title-winning teams. During his time at Catalina Foothills, Keen led the boys’ cross country teams to state titles in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
They join Murray, who was the Wildcats’ head track and field and cross country coach for many years. During his tenure, Murray was named the Pac-10 cross country coach of the year seven times.
UA head coach Fred Harvey said in a news release that Murray will be a great mentor to both the co-interim coaches and UA athletes.
“Bernard Lagat is one of the world’s all-time great distance runners and will bring a level of comfort and confidence to our student-athletes since he has been in the program for over 15 years and understands their training methodology,” Harvey said. “Doug Keen brings a level of excitement as well as an understanding of building cross country teams. His ability to structure four Arizona high school state cross country championship teams will be instrumental as we prepare for an upcoming spring cross country and track and field seasons.”
It’s unclear if Li’s and Peterson’s departures are connected to the athletic department’s investigation, which began over the summer following complaints from athletes about sexual harassment, bullying and assault by teammates, both women and men.
Via email, UA athletic director Dave Heeke told one runner that he had forwarded her concerns to the Office of Institutional Equity, which investigates complaints of discrimination levied against university employees. Heeke’s email said that the UA was taking her concerns seriously and that officials were “carefully reviewing the other concerns (she had) raised about the program.”
Prior to receiving Heeke’s email, the runner and several other former teammates contacted the Star to share their concerns.
In total, 20 former members of UA cross country teams spoke to the Star, detailing claims of abusive and neglectful practices on the team. Many of them shared stories about Peterson, saying she routinely made rude comments, spoke negatively about them to other runners and reported them for disrespect and insubordination to Li and Harvey when they tried to talk to her about her actions.
At the time, UA officials told the Star it had made “administrative and roster changes,” but would not detail what they were. The UA also said the athletic department would “continue to adjust to meet our goals for the program.”
The athletic department hosts monthly performance meetings with medical staff, including sports psychologists, to “work through” various student-athlete concerns, plans and feedback. The meetings have led to advancements in how the department addresses mental health, training and the overall well-being of student-athletes, according to the UA.
Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at email@example.com or 573-4191. On Twitter: @caitlincschmidt.