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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 August, 2004, 20:51 GMT 21:51 UK
El Guerrouj sprints to gold
Hicham El Guerrouj celebrates
Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj joined the all-time greats after finally winning an elusive 1500m Olympic title at the third time of asking.

El Guerrouj, denied in two previous Olympic finals, somehow held off Kenya's Bernard Lagat in an epic duel over the final 100m to take gold.

El Guerrouj, the world record holder and world champion, collapsed in tears as he crossed the finishing line.

Portugal's Rui Silva took bronze, with Britain's Michael East a fine sixth.

El Guerrouj went to the front with 700 metres to go and wound the pace up over the penultimate lap before kicking again on the back straight.

As he came off the top bend, Lagat drew level and for a moment edged ahead of his rival.

I have come back through my willpower and the help of those around me
Hicham El Guerrouj
But El Guerrouj, in what may be his final championship 1500m, had the strength and desire to claw his way back in front and take that precious gold.

He said: "I am very happy. This is a big moment for me. Now at last I am Olympic champion."

El Guerrouj was red-hot favourite for gold in Atlanta eight years ago, only to trip and fall in the final.

He was also the undisputed world number one in Sydney, but ran a poor tactical race which allowed Kenya's Noah Ngeny to steal the gold medal.

"Four years ago I cried tears of sadness, now there are tears of joy," he said. "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."

East, the Commonwealth champion, was delighted with his performance.

"At the beginning of the season, I would have snapped someone's arm off just to be in the Olympic final," he said.

"Some people will say that I should have tried to get closer to the leaders, but these guys can run the final 800m in the time I run normal 800m.

"I held my head up and just tried to work my way through the field."

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