El Guerrouj enjoys his second coronation

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The Independent Online

It was on the track in the Athenian Olympic Stadium that Hicham El Guerrouj first showed his Midas touch, striking 1500m gold at the 1997 World Championships. It has taken the great Moroccan master of the middle distances a further seven years to bring his power to bear in Olympic competition but in the space of four days he has emerged from the Greek arena as one of the golden all-time greats of the track.

It was on the track in the Athenian Olympic Stadium that Hicham El Guerrouj first showed his Midas touch, striking 1500m gold at the 1997 World Championships. It has taken the great Moroccan master of the middle distances a further seven years to bring his power to bear in Olympic competition but in the space of four days he has emerged from the Greek arena as one of the golden all-time greats of the track.

Having ended his long quest for the 1500m crown last Tuesday, the 29-year-old added the 5,000m version to it with a supreme performance in the final on Saturday night. Launching his decisive move off the final bend, El Guerrouj sprinted past Kenenisa Bekele, the 10,000m winner, to secure victory as the champion of champions and a place in the record books alongside Paavo Nurmi. Only the finest of all the "Flying Finns" had previously completed the Olympic 1500m and 5,000m double, on the Stade Colombes track in Paris in 1924.

"Two days ago I received a message from a friend, saying in 1997 Athens discovered the prince and in 2004 it will discover the king," El Guerrouj reflected. "When I came to the stadium I was thinking of Paavo Nurmi. He was a great legend. He made history in his time.

"I was telling myself, 'This is a great day for you. If you want to get this medal, do it.' I have always dreamed of being an Olympic champion and now I have done it twice. It's fantastic.

"When I lost the 1500m final in Sydney I found it very hard to start running again. For four years I have worked hard for this. In July I was suffering from breathing problems and I did not even know if I would be here. Now I am as happy as a child."

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