The man, the myth, the legend. Hicham El Geurrouj is without a doubt the greatest middle distance runner ever to of existed. How can I state such a fact with profound confidence? If I tell you that he’s won Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, and still holds the world records for the mile and the 1500m (the metric mile.)
With his times standing at 3:43.13 for the mile, and 3:26.00 for the 1500m, almost 20 years later the worlds greatest athletes are chasing his ghost. Now what makes Hicham’s story so interesting is not his world records (even though his mile world record was a spine tingling battle to the line against Kenya’s Noah Ngeyn), but his chase after the Olympic title he so desperately craved.
Hicham competed at the Olympic Games 3 times: Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens in 2004. Even though he came into all of the games as a clear favorite, and a clean slate of victories in relevant seasons, it wasn’t until 2004 where he could claim his title. In 1996, at his first Olympic Games, it looked like Hicham had it in the bag with 500m to go, as he could comfortably out kick anyone in the world. When they hit the bell, someone else hit the back of Hicham’s trailing leg, and he tumbled to the ground. The victory was not his that day. In 2000, his second Olympic Games, it was an enthralling race, with Hicham facing off the last 200m with the best Kenya had to offer in Noah Ngeyn and Bernard Lagat (who is now American, and still on the world stage at 41 years of age.), with 60m to go, Ngeyn passed Hicham and gained a couple yards, which Hicham would never claw back. He had to settle for 2nd that day, with Lagat claiming the bronze. For his final shot of redemption, Hicham returned to the Olympics in 2004 to face off in the final again, joined by his fellow returning medalist: Bernard Lagat. Arguably one of the most fantastic 1500m races to watch, the two had an incredible battle. In the final 100m they were clear from the rest of the field, and it was down to a question of who wanted the gold most. Hicham took the lead, then in a matter of yards Lagat took it back, it looked like Lagat had it locked up with 40m to go but from nowhere Hicham found an extra gear, and won by hundredths of a second. He collapsed to the ground in tears, after finally achieving his dream.
If you haven’t already seen it, I highly advise you search that race on YouTube, as you will feel inspired, and witness what true grit and determination looks like.
Born 14th of September 1974, Hicham is the greatest Middle Distance athlete ever to of existed. That’s a title that will surely stay with him for a long long time.