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ATHENS 2004

El Guerrouj Breathes Easier After Second Gold

August 29, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Six weeks ago, Hicham El Guerrouj wasn't thinking about running.

He wasn't thinking about the Olympics.

He certainly wasn't thinking about Paavo Nurmi.

He was thinking about breathing.

The distance runner was suffering from bronchial problems that severely limited his ability to perform at his normal world-class level. He was given allergy medicine, but that didn't help.

When El Guerrouj finished eighth in the 1,500 meters at the Golden Gala in Rome in July, Athens seemed out of the question.

But gradually he improved, came to Athens, won Olympic gold in the 1,500 Tuesday in Olympic Stadium, and, on Saturday, followed in the steps of a legend by winning a second gold in the 5,000 final in 13 minutes 14.39 seconds.

"I always dreamed of being an Olympic champion," El Guerrouj said, "and now I did it twice. It's fantastic."

El Guerrouj equaled the feat of Nurmi, the Finnish runner who also won both of those races in 1924.

"When I came to the stadium," El Guerrouj said of Saturday's race, "I was thinking about Paavo Nurmi. I was telling myself, 'This is a great day for you.' Paavo Nurmi made history in his time, but our generation is also very strong."

In winning, El Guerrouj not only equaled Nurmi but defeated Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, the world-record holder at 5,000 meters with a time of 12:37.35. Bekele's time Saturday was 13:14.59.

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya won the bronze in 13:15.10.

"He is young, fresh and extremely talented," said El Guerrouj of Bekele. "He can destroy all records from 5,000 meters maybe up to the marathon. But today, I was very strong mentally."

Bekele said the loss was due to poor strategy on his part.

"If I had started my sprint earlier," he said, "maybe I could have won. But I let him continue and that was my mistake. He was too strong at the finish."

Tim Broe of the U.S. finished 11th Saturday in 13:33.06

*

It was a double night for doubles.

Kelly Holmes of Britain, who won the women's 800 race Monday, came back Saturday to take the gold medal at 1,500 meters, coming in at 3:57.90. Tatyana Tomashova of Russia won the silver (3:58.12) and the bronze went to Maria Cioncan of Romania (3:58.39).

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