MANCHESTER, England (AP) – Bernard Lagat fears for the fate of Kenyan runners caught in the postelection violence in his homeland.

But he believes if Kenyans win gold medals at the Beijing Olympics the success will help heal the wounds in the East African nation, which was been ravaged by nearly a month of turmoil.

“Once the violence is finished the athletes will continue to train really hard because Kenya has been a breeding ground for athletes as great ambassadors,” Lagat told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Lagat, a middle-distance runner and double world champion, became a U.S. citizen three years ago.

“One thing I know for a fact is that Kenya will still perform really well at the Olympics,” he said. “Once the violence is over, the athletes will continue training really well and they are going to make the Kenyan name great again in the way they’ve always been doing in all sports – cross-country, marathon – you name it.

“They’ve always been carrying the Kenyan flag everywhere and I think that is what Kenya needs right now and athletes are going to be the ones to do that.”

The disturbances which erupted in the aftermath of the disputed Dec. 27 presidential poll have already claimed the lives of some 700 people – including at least two Kalenjin runners.

Former Olympic runner Lucas Sang was hacked to death on Dec. 31 and marathon runner Wesly Ngetich was shot with an arrow and died on Monday, prompting athletes to hold crisis talks this week.

“It is always disturbing when one of your colleagues is murdered in that fashion,” said Lagat, a silver medalist in the 1500 for Kenya at the 2004 Olympics. “Not only because they’re colleagues, any Kenyan being killed isn’t what I would like to see – that is not the way to peace and that is not the way to treat each other.

“Unfortunately this is affecting everyone in the country, including runners.”

While Lagat lives in Tucson, Ariz., most of his family, including his parents, still live in Kenya.

“I keep in touch all the time to see if they are safe, they are really safe and not affected at all,” Lagat said. “Kenya is my country of birth and it’s sad to see what’s happening right now, but I know for a fact that things will change for the better.

“It has been a peaceful country and it will be a peaceful country again.”

On Saturday, the 33-year-old Lagat returns to the Scottish track where he achieved his first victory as an American a year ago.

Competing again in the 1,500 meters at the Norwich Union International in Glasgow, a glance across the lanes will give Lagat a reminder of his birthplace.

Representing the Commonwealth in the race is Kenyan Shadrack Korir, a bronze medallist behind winner Lagat at last August’s World Championships in Osaka, Japan.

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