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US Coach, Star Runner Look Ahead to Beijing Olympics


University of Arizona cross country and distance track and field coach James Li was born and raised in China. He moved to the U.S. more than two decades ago to coach collegiate running and just last year was named the Nike Coach of the year by the USA Track and Field organization. Right now he is preparing for the Beijing Olympics where he will be the manager of the U.S. Track and Field Olympic team. For producer Yi Suli, Elaine Lu has more on this nationally acclaimed coach.

Coach James Li has been directing the distance runners and cross-country programs at the University of Arizona since 2002.

"Coach Li really emphasizes more quality miles over quantity of miles so we do faster miles rather than do more miles," said one of Li's athletes.

"He showed me how to do it right, how to do the training and make my body be able to handle it," said another athlete. "I changed from 20 seconds off my mile and over 2 minutes on my 5k [5,000 kilometers]."

These trophies are some of the highlights from Li's long career in which his runners have won two Olympic medals, 50 All-American honors, 30 conference championships, and nine national championships.

"He listens to the athletes. He is not a coach that necessarily sets out… says this is the plan for the year," said Erin Rodrigs, who is one of Li's assistant coaches. "He is constantly changing up things to benefit what's going to work best for the athletes,"

Among the athletes Li coaches is the reigning world champion in the 1,500 meter and 5,000 meter events, Bernard Lagat.

Lagat, a native of Kenya who became a U.S. citizen in 2004, has been training with Li for more than 12 years.

"We are friends, athlete and coach. And he is always the man that I respect," said Lagat. "And he respects me. And I think our relation is very strong. We train hard. And I think coach Li is the man who knows what he does," Lagat said.

Li believes it takes more than talent to develop a winning approach to training.

"We have a good foundation of faith and confidence in each other, then comes communication-very good communication," he said.

Li says strategy and hard training are just as important, "We have figured out the best way to train Lagat: from the training method to the entire training system, all catered toward him perfectly."

Under Li's coaching, Lagat rose from a college national champion to an Olympic medalist in the last two summer Olympic games.

After winning his events at the world championship in Japan, Lagat credited Li for his performance.

"I was feeling like in control. Because my coach told me not to burn my kick, go to gradually and gradually and feeling relaxed,” he said. “That's the most important message he gave me today. And I was feeling relaxed. Coming into the 100, coming into the 50 meters and I just wanted to win. I wanted to win so bad. Everybody wants to win so bad and I got it today. So I was really pleased with my run."

Now Lagat is setting his sights on the Beijing Olympics where he hopes to represent the U.S. in his signature event.

"The focus right now is on one event. That's the 1,500 [meter],” he adds. “ I have the silver. I have the bronze. So I need to have the best one in Beijing. So I am looking forward to the big challenge in Beijing.

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