The doubt continues to linger. The day after Taoufik Makhloufi had performed his Lazarus impression at London 2012 – recovering from the knee injury that required medical certification to secure his reinstatement in the Games after his disqualification for lack of effort in the 800m heats on Monday – the track world scratched its head and wondered how the unheralded Algerian managed to win the 1500m final in such emphatic fashion.
Twelve months ago, Makhloufi was an also-ran. At the World Championships in Daegu he failed to reach the final. He finished 2011 ranked 34th in the world.
And yet, in the Olympic final on Tuesday night – with two of the greats of middle distance running, Sebastian Coe and Sir Roger Bannister, looking down from the VIP seats – the 24-year-old decimated the opposition.
Hitting the front with 300 metres to go, Makhloufi ran a devastating 12.6sec for the 100-metre stretch down the back straight. He eased off in the home straight but still won by 0.71sec, clocking 3min 34.08sec.
It was a stunning transformation – not just from the injured list but for an athlete who could only finish fifth in the 1500m at the Monaco Diamond League meeting just two and a half weeks ago. Makhloufi has knocked three and a half seconds off his best 1500m time this summer. His 800m personal best has come down by three seconds.
His sudden improvement, he insists, is down to hard work, dedication and a new coach. "At the beginning of the year, I had some difficult decisions," he said. "I changed my coach. For seven months I have not seen my family because I have been training in Europe and Africa. My family have only seen me on television.
"In the name of God I am very happy to have won this race and I think I have given new hope for the Algerian people and for the Arab people in general."
Rashid Ramzi expressed much the same sentiment when he won the 2008 Olympic 1500m final in Beijing, giving Bahrain its first Olympic gold medal in any sport.
It was not until April 2009 that news emerged that Ramzi had tested positive in Beijing for a modern version of the banned blood-boosting drug EPO. In July 2009, his "B" sample was tested and found to be positive, and by November he had been formally disqualified. Asbel Kiprop of Kenya was promoted to the gold medal.
Leo Manzano took the silver behind Makhloufi on Tuesday, the first medal won by an American in the Olympic 1500m since Jim Ryun in Mexico in 1968. "I know he won," the Mexican-born Manzano said, "but I feel like I won, too."
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