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El Guerrouj wins Olympic gold at last

Bill Barclay | August 25, 2004 02:30 IST
Last Updated: August 25, 2004 10:43 IST

Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco struck Olympic gold at last on Tuesday to confirm his status as the greatest 1,500 metres runner in the history of athletics.

The 29-year-old, four-times world champion and world record-holder, filled the only vacant slot in his medals cabinet by holding off Kenyan Bernard Lagat in a classic duel to win in three minutes 34.18 seconds.

Lagat took silver in 3:34.30, with Portugal's Rui Silva grabbing bronze in 3:34.68.

Hicham El GuerroujEl Guerrouj could not contain his happiness after crowning his glorious career with Olympic gold on Tuesday.

The Moroccan 1,500 metres king, who fell in the 1996 Olympic final and was beaten into second place by Kenya's Noah Ngeny four years ago, finally earned the title his outstanding track record deserved with a titanic victory over the Kenyan.

"I am really happy. I feel like a baby, a three-month old baby," said the 29-year-old, draping himself in the Moroccan flag and dancing a jig as the entire Olympic Stadium rose to applaud one of the greatest athletes of all time.

"This medal is for the King (of Morocco) and for my little daughter whom I love," said El Guerrouj, who also holds world records for the mile and the 2,000 metres and has been below three minutes 30 seconds over 1,500 an astonishing 31 times.

"Four years ago I cried tears of sadness, now there are tears of joy," the world record-holder and four-time world champion told his post-race news conference.

"I have experienced something wonderful with the people I love. It has been a tough year after working hard for eight years.

"I had respiratory problems and I didn't even know if I was going to go to the Olympics.

"I went to Rome (on July 2) and finished eighth. That is not good for me but I have come back through my willpower and the help of those around me."

El Guerrouj admitted he feared the worst when Lagat, who edged him out in Zurich on August 6, moved up to his shoulder 50 metres from the line.

"I went up a gear at 400 (metres out) and again at 300. I knew the strength he had. He really came back at me, it felt like an avalanche," the 29-year-old added.

Lagat said: "With 50 metres to go I thought it would be another Zurich. I knew it would come down to the kick but he had the extra one percent."

Athens 2004: The Complete Coverage

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