Lopez Lomong

Lopez Lomong, and "all the things people in the world dream about"

What Lopez Lomong does when he runs is fantastic stuff. But that, of course, is just the start of all there is to tell when the telling revolves around Lopez Lomong.

"I am a voice for people who never told their story," he says. "I have to tell their stories."

When most Americans checked in on track and field four years ago, Lomong was the flag bearer for the U.S. team marching into the opening ceremony at the Summer Games in Beijing.

He was one of the "lost boys" of Sudan, born in southern Sudan, forced to flee when he was just 6 years old to avoid an attack by the militia group known as the Janjaweed. He and his family ran for three days until they crossed into Kenya. After being separated from his family, he lived in a refugee camp run by Catholic missionaries for 10 years. An essay he wrote in 2001 about what he would try to do in the United States got him that chance; he was placed with a foster family in upstate New York. He went on to run in high school and college, became a naturalized U.S. citizen and made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in the 1500 meters.

In Beijing, he made it to the 1500 semifinals. He posed for pictures with President Bush.

Fast forward to April 2012 and the Peyton Jordan meet at Stanford. Now the 27-year-old Lomong is every bit the professional track athlete. Now he is training in Portland, running 80 to 85 miles per week under the direction of Oregon Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher.

This night, Lomong, running the 5000 meters, not only unleashes a powerful kick but blows away the field. He crosses the finish line and stops, an easy winner.

Just one problem.

He has miscounted laps. He has one to go.


He fires up the jets and takes off again.

This is a supremely difficult trick. But Lomong manages it, anyway. And wins the race again. Twice, as it were -- and, as it turns out, in what was then a world-leading time, 13:11.63.

"My body felt so good," Lomong said, laughing and adding, "We train so hard that racing is easy. Every time we have a race coming up in a couple weeks it's like I can't wait -- that's an easy day."

This weekend, Lomong will race the mile at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., against a world-class field. The mile isn't an Olympic event; maybe it should be, but that's a discussion for another day. The Pre is "another indicator" of where he is and what race or races he ought to aim for at the Trials.

As Lomong eases back into the spotlight, he paused this week to reflect for just a moment:

"I love the United States," he said. "This is the country that gives me a second chance. This is my gift, to give back to this country that has given me a second chance. I owe this country so much. I owe the fans. I love it so much. I wear the uniform with pride. I hold my head high and say, 'I am an American.' "

Assuming Lomong makes the U.S. Olympic team again, and if his Stanford kick is any indication you have to think he's a solid bet, he will be reunited in London with his longtime girlfriend, Brittany Morreale, 24, of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.

She is a Rhodes Scholar now doing her work in Oxford as well as a first lieutenant in the Air Force.

They met when she was on the track and cross-country teams at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; he was in the area, where the U.S. Olympic Committee maintains a center, training; half a season later, he asked her out while they were both recuperating from a hard workout in an ice bath. How's that for romance?

They have been an item now for four years.

At Oxford, Morreale is studying anthropology -- specifically, the role of traditional authority at the community level in South Sudan, which last July became an independent nation. "Originally it was inspired by Lopez," she said. "It has become really personal."

The day after the closing ceremonies in London, the two of them will travel to the town where he was born and spent his first six years. It's called Kimotong, in a state called Eastern Equatoria. There, in concert with World Vision, the Christian relief agency, they intend to launch a long-term project -- it's dubbed "4 South Sudan" -- with, naturally, four areas of focus: clean water, health care, education and nutrition.

Through appearances at the Chicago and Los Angeles marathons, Lomong has helped raise just over $100,000 -- enough, they figure, to drill several boreholes and wells in Kimotong.

It's critical, he said, to find a well or wells to deliver water. Three years ago, his younger sister, Susan, just a teen-ager, was sexually assaulted as she was en route one day to find water. Lomong has written about the incident previously and when asked will talk about it, saying it has become a key motivator for him in trying to effect change not just in Kimotong but elsewhere in the developing world, where girls often find themselves vulnerable simply because they're trying to find water to drink or to use for cooking.

A village with water frees its girls from that fear and from the burden of walking hours to find it; when that burden is lifted, that opens up the possibility of going to school; with school comes endless possibilities.

In Susan's case, the assailant's identity remains unknown. Susan became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, whose name is Choper.

"I look at this," Lopez Lomong said, "and I am so blessed to be in America.

"I ran through all these obstacles to get to America. In my house, I have a faucet and clean water. I don't have to go to a river or a lake. And $50 will provide clean water for a family for life. That's incredible. I just want to be able to bring clean water so that girls like my sister don't have to walk all these miles and along the way they can overcome all those hardships. We want them to be able to go to school and continue in their lives and dream big. Be teachers and doctors and pilots and all the things people in the world dream about. All the things that were pushing me forward."

'Believe': Matthew Centrowitz does

DAEGU, South Korea -- For 20 years, Americans -- whether native-born or naturalized -- proved non-factors in one of the glamour races in track and field, the 1500. Now, though, it appears the Americans are again for real.

On Saturday night, Matthew Centrowitz, who this fall will be a fifth-year senior at the University of Oregon, won the bronze medal in the 1500 at the 2011 track and field world championships. "Taking that victory lap," he said afterward, "I still didn't think it was real."

It was, and it adds to these recent performances:

Thursday: Jenny Simpson wins the women's 1500.

2009 worlds, in Berlin: Bernard Lagat takes bronze. That race was particularly noteworthy because, of the 12 guys in the final, three were American. All three were naturalized Americans, and damn proud of it: Lagat, Lopez Lomong and Leo Manzano.

2007, in Osaka: Lagat wins. He also wins the 5000.

Before that -- there was a long, long gap.

You have to go all the way back to Jim Spivey, in 1987 in Rome, who took bronze.

The two medals here mark the first time since 1983 that Americans have won medals in the men's and women's 1500.

The same day that Simpson won her final, Centrowitz won his semifinal.

It made him realize, he said, that he had a chance -- a real chance.

Later that day, he called home and told his folks he had made the final. His dad, Matt, ran in the 1976 Summer Games and was on the 1980 U.S. team as well; he was All-American at Oregon. "He was just pumped," Matthew said. He caught his mom, Beverly, as she was driving to work; Matthew said she cried.

In retrospect, of course he won the semifinal. The day before, as he posted to his Twitter feed, he had been in the cafeteria and Cher's song, "Believe," started playing: "In Korea … whats the odds of 1 of my fav songs coming on?!"

A college senior who not only listens to Cher but admits to it in a public forum -- that takes a certain amount of confidence in one's self, right?

That same guy was loose and confident in the ready room. Nick Willis, the Beijing Games 1500 silver medalist, who is now all of 28, said after the race that he was looking over at Centrowitz, 21, who was laughing and joking while waiting in that ready room, and it reminded him of a young Nick Willis: "There was no pressure."

There were two Kenyans in the race, 2008 Olympic champ Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat. Two Moroccans. An Ethiopian. An Algerian. Willis.

In other words -- the field was stacked. And Centrowitz felt zero pressure. "I think I looked at the start list for this final the least of any race I raced all year," Centrowitz said. "I knew everyone was going to be good -- so what was the point of looking at their [personal-bests], or who was in it? I knew I was going to have to come out and give a hard showing no matter what … not analyzing who was in it, just -- no expectations, just having fun."

Centrowitz's strategy is to run from the front. "I get more excited up there. I'm more engaged," he said, adding, "I like to stay up there," and that was his plan in Saturday's final as well.

Willis led the pack through the first two laps, with Centrowitz right behind.

Then the Kenyans took over. At 1200 meters Kiplagat had the lead, and Centrowitz found himself slightly behind, and boxed in.

"I mean, they went so hard with like 350 to go," he said. Relax, he told himself. They'll come back to you.

"Sure enough, once 200 hit, each 50 -- it was just one more guy, one more guy and then I found myself in my own position, just digging down," on the outside, coming down the stretch, crossing the line in third.

There used to be a time when having "U-S-A" on your jersey seemed to doom you in the 1500. Maybe that time is over.

"As we have seen," Centrowitz said, "anything can happen. When you put good training in, when you stay consistent, good things happen, and that's what I believed when I came here."