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Olympics: El Guerrouj’s dream comes true, Kenyans take all medals in the steeple

2004-08-25

The number one middle distance runner of the past century has finally won an Olympic gold medal. After a fascinating battle against Bernard Lagat on the home straight Hicham El Guerrouj won the Olympic 1,500 m final. When there were just 50 metres to go it seemed as if Kenya’s Bernard Lagat would snatch the gold. But on the very last few metres El Guerrouj was able to turn things round again. He won with a time of 3:34,18 and had an advantage of just twelve hundredth of a second. Behind Lagat the bronze medal was won by Rui Silva (Portugal/3:34,68).

Bernard Lagat probably had started his final attack slightly to early. After he had passed El Guerrouj he could not stand the pace to the finish line. This slight misjudgement probably cost him the gold while Hicham El Guerrouj’s dream came true.

And an eight year long nightmare came to an end for the Moroccan. In the Olympic final in 1996 he had fallen over the leg of his rival Noureddine Morceli (Algeria), who became teh Olympic Champion. El Guerrouj finished 12th. Four years later Noah Ngeny (Kenya) shocked El Guerrouj when he beat him just before the finish line. Disappointment was so big that El Guerrouj considered ending his career.

When Lagat attacked El Guerrouj on the home straight it looked almost the same as in Sydney. When there were two laps to go Hicham El Guerrouj had taken the lead. And he still was in this position when he entered the home straight. But then Lagat attacked. “When he passed me I thought about Sydney. But then I got the feeling that this time I could respond. And thank god I was able to do so”, Hicham El Guerrouj said. “Four years ago I was in tears because of the disappointment, this time I had tears of joy in my eyes.”

Bernard Lagat was not disappointed about loosing a gold medal. “I gave everything and I am happy about my silver medal. I knew it would be a very tough race. When there were 50 metres to go I though I might win it. But after I had finally finished second I also thought about Hicham. Because he has really deserved this gold medal.”

Nonetheless Kenya still got its first gold medal of the games. In the steeplechase there was no-one stopping the Kenyan’s. And for a second time in Olympic history they took all three medals. It was in 1992 when they first achieved this. Now Ezekiel Kemboi, who had been second in last year’s World Championships, won the gold medal in a time of 8:05,81 minutes. 19 year-old Brimin Kipruto was second (8:06,11) while Paul Kipsiele Koech (8:06,64) took the bronze.

Fourth place finisher Musa Obaid Amer also originally comes from Kenya. But he changed his nationality and now runs for Qatar. It was the aim of the ,real’ Kenyan’s to keep him away from the medals. And they achieved their goal. “It was great teamwork. And we won all the medals for our country“, Ezekiel Kemboi said. But the fiercest rival had been omitted by the Kenyans before the Games. World Champion Saif Saaeed Shaheen (Qatar) also had changed his nationality a year ago. The former Kenyan had won the steeple at the Zurich track meeting recently. But Kenya’s officials did not give their permission for him to start in the Olympics. In this case it would have been necessary. So Shaheen had to watch the race on TV instead of going for the gold.


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