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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Where in the world is Coach Li?

    From the collegiate level to the international level, UA cross country and track coach James Li can do it all.

    The 47-year-old Li, who has been a running coach for over two decades, moved to America in 1985 to become the assistant track coach at Washington State.

    While he was at Washington State, Li recruited one of today’s top runners in the world, Bernard Lagat of Kenya. Lagat – who now runs for America -ÿwon a bronze medal in the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney and a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Games, both in the 1,500-meter races.

    Lagat, the brother of former UA runner Robert Cheseret and current runner Irine Lagat,ÿalso earned two gold medals in the 2007 World Championships in the 1,500m and 5,000m races, the first person to ever accomplish that feat.

    Since Li started coaching at the UA in 2002, Lagat has followed him to Tucson to continue training. It’s one thing when Li is looked at as a talented coach, but it’s another thing when an Olympic medalist and worldwide sports star still goes to Li for advice on how to improve his running.

    “”When I came to Washington State, Coach Li believed in me,”” Bernard Lagat told the Daily Wildcat in 2006. “”He didn’t see me as a collegiate athlete. He saw me as a future professional athlete. He told me, ‘We are training for college, but we have to look past college.'””

    Most recently, Li was offered the position of manager for the United States track team for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

    Born and raised in China, as well as having many connections to the country, it was very important to Li to be a part of the Games in Beijing.

    “”It’s my calling and I’m really meant for this job,”” Li told the Tucson Citizen.

    Li left the country July 20 and returns today. In his absence, UA track and field head coach Fred Harvey has been serving as the UA cross country coach.

    To understand how big of a role Li served in the Olympics, it must be understood how longthe process of becoming a manager is. First, a person must be nominated by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Once the nomination is in, there is then a vote by the Olympic body, and then the USA Track and Field Office must

    approve it.

    As a manager, Li doesn’t just

    sit around.

    “”The head manager is the driving force of the team,”” Harvey said. “”They take care of all the logistics, training sites, travel schedule and training schedule.””

    Because Li is such a well-respected coach, one would naturally assumethat his lengthy absence from the team would be a bad thing. But Harvey said he doesn’t feel Li’s absence will affect the team’s ability to perform well.

    “”We are running his program exactly how he wants it implemented,”” Harvey said. “”There might be a difference in personnel, (but there is) no difference (in) our coaching styles.””

    NCAA rules prohibit teams from practicing with their coaches over the summer, thus forcing the athletes to train on their own. Because the majority of Li’s time away from the team was during summer break, he hasn’t really missed many actual

    “”team”” practices.

    There is no doubt that it is a huge privilege for Li to be a part of the Olympics, but it is also a privilege to everyone involved with the UA cross country program to have a Wildcat coach represent the United States, Harvey said.

    The UA was well represented in the Summer Games with a total of 29 athletes and coaches with ties to the university: 19 are UA alumni, four are current student-athletes, three are coaches -ÿswimming head coach Frank Busch and softball head coach Mike Candrea also went to Beijing with Li – and the remaining three are athletes who were trained by UA coaches, one of them being Lagat.

    Being a part of a program that boasts multiple Olympians is truly special and implies a lot about the school and Coach Li, Harvey said.

    “”To go back to China to show his progress in America,”” he said, “”is a

    tremendous honor.””

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