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Last chance for El Guerrouj

By John Mehaffey
August 24, 2004 10:09 IST
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Sebastian Coe is the only man to have won the Olympic 1,500 metres title twice. Hicham El Guerrouj has yet to do it once.

To Coe's mind, though, there is no doubt who is the greater athlete in an event, which demands a unique combination of speed, stamina and intelligence.

"Hicham El Guerrouj is probably the best of us all," Coe concluded before last year's Paris world championships.

El Guerrouj's pedigree is unquestioned. He has won four world titles and holds the world record over the 1,500 and its imperial equivalent, the mile. Between 1996 and 2003 he won 80 of 83 races.

Significantly two of those three losses were at the Olympic Games and at the age of 30, Tuesday's Athens Games final represents the Moroccan's last realistic chance of that elusive Olympic gold.

In 1996, El Guerrouj fell just before the bell at the Atlanta Games. Four years later in Sydney he was beaten to the line in a frantic sprint finish by Kenyan Noah Ngeny.

"I reckon I must be one of the most unlucky athletes around as regards Sydney and Atlanta," said El Guerrouj. "This is my last chance to get a gold medal in the Olympics, so I really want to do it."

Last August in Paris, El Guerrouj was at his imperious best as he won his fourth consecutive world title by four metres from France's Mehdi Baala and a gold medal at this year's Games seemed a formality.

Suddenly, though, El Guerrouj has looked vulnerable this season. He lost at the Rome and Zurich Golden League meetings and missed 25 training days because of a breathing problem.

"I am 100 percent okay," he said. "I don't want to think about it now. If there was 0.01 percent of a risk then I wouldn't even be here."

Ngeny failed to make the Kenyan team and Bernard Lagat this time poses the threat.

Lagat beat El Guerrouj by 0.24 of a second in Zurich, clocking the year's fastest time of three minutes 27.40 seconds.
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John Mehaffey
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