Olympic Preview: Long-Distance Running

THOSE who view the Olympics through a red-white-and-blue prism tend to regard track's distance events as bathroom breaks. Too bad, because that means they've missed some classic duels, usually between African runners. No American has won the Olympic 5,000 meters since 1964 or the 1,500 since 1908. So how is it possible that a single American could win both races in Beijing? Because if you can't beat 'em, you import 'em. Bernard Lagat, 33, who pulled off that dazzling double at last year's worlds and has medaled for Kenya at a pair of Olympics, moved to the United States in 1997 and became a citizen in 2004. He's our Kenyan now.

As it turns out, the entire U.S. contingent in the 1,500 is a tribute to the American melting pot. Alongside Lagat will be Leonel Manzano, whose family crossed from Mexico to Texas when he was 4 years old, and Lopez Lomong, who was kidnapped by rebels in Sudan when he was 6. After escaping to a Kenyan refugee camp, where he spent a decade, he came to the United States in 2001 as one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan."

No American is expected to contend in the 10,000 meters—still, don't miss it. Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, who has set more than two dozen world records including the current marathon mark, won't run in the Beijing streets because of air pollution. Your one chance to watch this 35-year-old legend is in the 10,000.