Double Olympic Champion Hicham El Guerrouj Ends his Career

By Jörg Wenig
Hicham El Guerrouj. © Victah Sailer
Hicham El Guerrouj. © Victah Sailer

The best middle distance runner of the last decade has ended his career: Hicham El Guerrouj announced his retirement from the sport at a press conference in Casablanca. The 31 year-old Moroccan holds three world records: 1500 meters (3:26.00 minutes), the Mile (3:43.13) and 2,000m (4:44.79). Hicham El Guerrouj, who was unbeaten in 84 out of 89 competitions at the 1500m since 1986, crowned his career with a double win at the Olympic Games in Athens, taking the 1500m and the 5,000m.

Hicham El Guerrouj had travelled to Athens as one of the tragic figures of the Olympic history. But he then returned with two gold medals and that had been achieved by only one athlete before in the history of the Olympic Games: Paavo Nurmi. The legendary Finn was the double Olympic Champion back in 1924 at 1500m and 5,000m. Another record of Nurmi will remain untouched. He had won twelve Olympic medals, nine of them golden—no other athlete won more.

But Hicham El Guerrouj was not only collecting world records. He also collected gold medals at World Championships: From 1997 to 2003 the Moroccan was the 1500m World Champion four times in a row. Additionally, he won this distance twice at the World Indoor Championships. But, in contrast, before Athens his Olympic story was a tragic one: „Four years ago these were tears of pain, today’s tears are of joy,” said Hicham El Guerrouj, after he fulfilled his dream in Athens by winning his first gold medal at 1500m. „To have won in Athens—at this historical place where in 1896 the Games took place for the first time—is something extraordinary,” said Hicham El Guerrouj.

An eight year-old nightmare ended for him in Athens: In 1996 he had been the favorite in the 1500m final of Atlanta. But there he stumbled over the leg of his toughest rival, Noureddine Morceli. The Algerian became the Olympic Champion, El Guerrouj finished twelfth. Four years later somebody else came in his way: The Kenyan Noah Ngeny out sprinted Hicham El Guerrouj on the home stretch. Between those two Olympic Games the Moroccan had dominated his distance. Out of fortysix 1500m races he had lost only two—the two Olympic finals. The disappointment was so big that El Guerrouj almost quit his career. 35 days of vacation weren’t enough to come through this trauma. “It was so hard that sometimes I even missed training.” Three month later Hicham El Guerrouj recovered. And finally he achieved everything.