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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 August, 2004, 22:26 GMT 23:26 UK
El Guerrouj's golden salvation

By Steve Cram
BBC Sport in Athens

I was almost as happy with Hicham El Guerrouj's 1500m gold as the man was himself.

Why? Because he is too good not to have an Olympic title, because he has come so close before and because he had to win this epic race against all the odds.

Hicham El Guerrouj

I was so pleased that I ran down from my commentary position to the track to give him a big hug.

I was really worried beforehand. I just feared that, after the uncertain form he's shown this season, he would be in front only to buckle in the final few metres.

When Bernard Lagat came alongside him and then edged in front, I thought - uh-oh, here we go again.

But he kept coming back. Ultimately, he was hungrier than Lagat - and he finally got the gold his enormous talent and fantastic career deserve.

What he did was remember what worked at the Worlds in Paris last year, rather than what failed him in Sydney four years ago.

This is the way El Guerrouj wins races - he goes to the front with 700 metres to go, builds the pace over each additional 100m and then goes full on.

But it's one thing to have a plan, and another to execute it properly.

A lot of people can't do that, and El Guerrouj himself couldn't manage it in Sydney. And he's not as good an athlete as he was in Sydney, and Lagat is better than the man who beat him then, Noah Ngeny.

Despite all those things, he pulled it off.

Finally, he can be held up there with the all-time greats.

Who's the greatest?

Is he the best 1500m of all time?

Well, Seb Coe won the Olympic title twice, and Noureddine Morceli was a hell of an athlete.

He released himself from the ghosts of the past

But given El Guerrouj's world championship record, his world record and the fact that he has been the world number one for eight years, it's hard to think of anyone who can top him.

It's ironic that his Olympic gold has finally come in the year when he looked most vulnerable.

His old authority had gone, he was getting beaten, and we started to doubt him.

A lot of people had written him off.

My thoughts were going to Paula, and the fear that we could have another great champion who wouldn't win the gold their talent deserved.

But he released himself from the pressure of the night - and from the ghosts of the past.

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