Hicham El Guerrouj – King of the Mile

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Hicham El Guerrouj – King of the Mile

 

Hicham El Guerrouj is considered one the greatest middle-distance runner of all times. The Moroccan dominated middle distance running for a decade, setting world records for the mile, 1500 m and 2000 m. El Guerrouj is still the record holder for 1500 m, 2000 m and the mile and is part of IAAF’s Hall of Fame. He is the first athlete ever to hold world records in the mile race and 1500 m both indoors and outdoors.

Hicham El Guerrouj was born in September 1974, in Berkane, Morocco. El Guerrouj was inspired by the achievements of his fellow countryman, Said Aouita (won the gold medal in 5000 m race in 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics), and started practicing athletics at the age of 16, in 1990. He showed glimpses of his amazing potential from the very beginning and in 1991 Hicham El Guerrouj was selected train at National Institute of Athletics in Rabat, under Abdelkader Kada’s supervision. The King of the Mile debuted internationally in 1992 in the World Cross Country Championships, finishing 14th in the Junior race. Hicham El Guerrouj finished 3rd in the 5000 m (13:46.79), behind the legendary Haile Gebrselassie and Ismael Kirui, in 1992 Seoul World Junior Championships.

Hicham El Guerrouj - The King of the Mile

El Guerrouj rose to prominence in 1995 when he won the gold medal in 1500 m (3:44.54) in 1995 Barcelona World Indoor Championships. The Moroccan found in Algeria’s Noureddine Morceli the perfect nemesis. Morceli was the top mid-distance runner of that time, being the record holder for the mile, 1500 m and the 3000m The first encounter between Hicham El Guerrouj and Noureddine Morceli was in the 1995 Gothenburg World Championships. El Guerrouj (aged 20) finished second in the 1500 m race, behind the more experienced Morceli. For a young athlete that started his professional career only four years back it was an amazing result. The two rivals met again in the 1500 m Olympic race in 1996. It was one of the most dramatic races in Olympic history because Hicham El Guerrouj was just behind Morceli with only 400 meters to go. Unfortunately, the Moroccan tripped on Morceli’s heel and felt. Morceli won the Olympic gold, while El Guerrouj finished last. Hicham was dishearten by this failure, but King Hassan of Morocco called him after the race and told him that El Guerrouj is a hero and he needs to have patience because his time will eventually come. This phonecall was a real catalyst for El Guerrouj’s career, that managed in the next 9 years to crush any opposition and dominate the mid-distance races.

A month after the Olympic defeat, Hicham El Guerrouj finally had his revenge over Morceli. The Moroccan won the Milan Grand Prix (3:38.80), being the first athlete to defeat Morceli in 1500 m in four years. El Guerrouj started 1997 with two new world indoor records in 1500 m (3:31.18) and in the mile run (3:48.45). The Moroccan successfully defended his 1500 m World indoor title in 1997 and later on he won the gold medal in 1500m in World Championships as well. Hicham El Guerrouj lost only one race in 1997, a mile run in the IAAF Grand Prix Final. El Guerrouj set a new world record in 1500 m (3:26.0) in 1998, lowering Morceli’s record with 1.37 seconds. The King of the Mile wanted to complete his revenge and crush all the records held by Morceli. As a result, Hicham El Guerrouj set a new record for the mile (3:43.13) in 1999, being followed by Kenya’s Noah Ngeny (3:43.40). It was the first time since 1958 when two athletes broke the mile world record in the same race. El Guerrouj won another gold medal in 1500 m in World Championships in 1999. Later in 1999, the King of the Mile set a new world record for 2000 m (4:44.79), taking more than 3 seconds off Morceli’s previous world record. With this record,  Hicham El Guerrouj managed to beat all the records set by his Algerian nemesis. Furthermore, the King of the Mile ran the second fastest 3000 m ever (7:23.09) on 3rd of September 1999 in Bruxelles.

Hicham El Guerrouj seemed doomed in the Olympics. He lost again the Olympic gold in 1500 m, being edged by the Noah Ngeny (his new rival since the mile race in Rome 1999) by only 0.25 seconds.  The King of the Mile continued to dominate mid-distance races in the following  4 years, winning 32 finals. El Guerrouj is the only athlete ever to win the Golden League 3 times in a row and the only mid-distance runner in history that won the big jackpot of $ 1 million. Furthermore, he is the only mid-distance athlete that managed to win 4 consecutive 1500 m world titles in 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003. Being undefeated in more than 20 races, Hicham El Guerrouj was declared IAAF World Athlete of the Year in 2001, 2002 and 2003, being the first male to win the award in consecutive years. The Moroccan restarted competing in 5000 m races, winning silverware in 2003 World Championships.

The King of the Mile knew that 2004 Athens Summer Olympics was his final chance to conquer the supreme gold. El Guerrouj won the 1500 m Olympic race, beating Kenya’s Bernard Legat with only 0.12 seconds. The experts considered El Guerrouj’s win as the perfect 1500 m race. The Moroccan also won the 5000 m Olympic race (13:14.39), being the first athlete since Paavo Nurmi to do the 1500/5000 m double. Hicham El Guerrouj achieved his ultimate goal: to win the Olympic gold. Without any motivation left, the greatest mid-runner of all time decided to retire in 2006.

Hicham El Guerrouj is a symbol of pure talent and sheer devotion. He came from a country that does not promote sport, but his dazzling speed and strong will turned El Guerrouj into a symbol of consistency and victory no matter what. Let’s not forget that the King of the Mile ran forty six 1500 m races, losing 2 races (1996 Atlanta Olympics and 2000 Sydney Olympics).

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