Wednesday, August 25

Hicham El Guerrouj wins Gold

Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj crosses
the line ahead of Kenya's Bernard
Lagat (L) and Portugal's Rui Silva.
Picture / Reuters

I have always been a true-blue track and field fan and lover of the Olympics. 20 years ago I could recite from memory every single track and field world record and in some events roll off the last 5 and where they took place. Watching Johnson eclipse Pietro Manea's 18 year 200 meter worldrecord in the at the US Olympic trials, was something to behold. But the 19.32 second Olympic final was the destruction of a lifetime, you don't break sprint records by .34 seconds. Historically the record had never been advanced that far, Beamon's jump in Mexico City is probably the only performance in the neighborhood (and that was the definition of astonishment).

As an active child I harbored Olympic dreams and the two events I most wanted to compete, (Discus, High Jump) happened to be events so divorced from my talents that I have to chuckle at my childhood hubris. I turns out that I was most suited to run distance, but at my very best I may have been a 4:25-4:30 mile, needless to mention about 40 seconds too slow to entertain a dream of 1500 meter Olympic glory. My best sport was Bicycle Racing an I did qualify and compete at the National Championships, and was invited to a National team selection camp at the Olympic Training Center. While I never made the National Team, I am proud to have been asked to try.

I remember when David moorcroft, almost took the 5000 meter world record under 13 minutes to 13:00.41 in 1982 taking the record from Henry Rono and knocking nealy 6 seconds off the record. This brings us to Hicham El Guerrouj a man who took the 1500 meter record in 1998 to 3.26.00 from the great Algerian Moureddine Morceli who had run 3:27.37. He is also the present Mile world record holder at 3:43.13 also taking the record from Morceli. El Guerrouj has lost the 1500 meter race only 4 times since 1996, twice in the Olympics and probably twice at the worlds. Now if there is anyone that I am inclined to root for hard in any event, it is probably going to be a world record holder without an Olympic Gold. So after circumstance denies El Guerrouj his place in the pantheon of 1500/mile runners, I am so happy to see that he has finally earned a gold.

By Rob Gloster
The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Hicham El Guerrouj knelt and kissed the track that had finally yielded a gold medal.

After heartbreaking losses in the previous two Olympics, El Guerrouj won gold in the 1,500 meters Tuesday by holding off Kenya's Bernard Lagat in a dramatic test of wills on the homestretch. Four years ago El Guerrouj was edged by another Kenyan, and in 1996 he fell on the last lap.

El Guerrouj defeated Lagat by .12 seconds, then fell to his knees as his fellow runners came over to hug and caress the sobbing Moroccan. On his victory lap, the flag-draped El Guerrouj kissed his infant daughter, Hiba, and did an impromptu dance to Greek music playing over the loudspeakers.

"It is finally complete," the four-time world champion said. "Four years ago in Sydney, I cried with sadness. Today I cry tears of joy. I'm living a moment of glory."

El Guerrouj quickly was surrounded by his opponents — who gently lifted him from the track each time he knelt.

"I'm very happy for him. He was stronger mentally," Lagat said. "He has now achieved it all. This gold medal was the only thing missing."

El Guerrouj said he still plans to run in the Olympic 5,000. The first round is tonight. Among his opponents in that race will be world record holder Kenenisa Bekele, who won the 10,000-meter gold medal.

Such is the admiration of the talent and character of the man that his competitors help him along the victory lap. I honestly wished I had watched the race, but was not paying attention enought, dammit I am proud of humanity, and I'll have to repeat this:

El Guerrouj quickly was surrounded by his opponents — who gently lifted him from the track each time he knelt.