Throughout the chilly Moroccan winter, one dream burned bright for Hicham El Guerrouj as he trained in the thin air of the Atlas mountains.
Tuesday, August 24, represented the 29-year-old's last realistic chance of the Olympic 1,500 metres gold which would confirm he is the finest middle distance runner in history.
The four-times world champion and world record holder rose to the challenge.
Striding to the front after 800m, he held off Kenyan Bernard Lagat to win the Olympic title at his third attempt, informs ABC Sport.
According to the Moscow Times, El Guerrouj survived a classic showdown with Kenyan Paul Legat. Three weeks ago in Zurich, Legat had run down the Moroccan in the final 50 meters. Legat tried to do it again in Athens, but El Guerrouj held him off, winning in 3 minutes, 34.18 seconds -- 12-hundredths of a second ahead of Legat.
El Guerrouj has lost just four races in the last eight years, but two of those defeats came at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He stumbled and fell on the final lap to finish last at Atlanta, then blew a lead in the final meters at Sydney and later confessed he had been overcome by pre-race stress.
Lagat, then, inched into the lead. As fans gasped, El Guerrouj did not whither. With gritted teeth, he pushed himself to victory, crossing the finish line in 3 minutes 34.18 seconds. Lagat finished in 3:34.68, with Rui Silva in third in 3:34.68.
"I knew the strength he had," El Guerrouj said. "He really came back at me. It was like an avalanche. In the last 50 meters, the first thing I thought about was Sydney...and I found the energy to really kick." When El Guerrouj crossed the finish line, he covered his face with his hands and fell to the track, kissing it. Lagat sought him out almost immediately, bending over to offer an embrace, reports Indian Express.
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