The name Hicham El Guerrouj is well-known in the world of running and many consider him to be the greatest middle-distance runner of all time. He holds the world record for the fastest mile, 1500m and 2000m, which resulted in him being referred to as the ‘King of the Mile’. But the Moroccan has interesting tales of failures which eventually propelled him to be the legend that he is today:
Rise To Prominence
Coming from a country that didn’t promote sport, Hicham El Guerrouj burst on to the scene at age 20 when he finished second in the World Championships behind then world champion Noureddine Morcelli. Then, in 1996, expecting to challenge for the gold El Guerrouj had a fall in the final stretch and finished last from a position of strength. He was crying uncontrollably in the tunnel and it took a call from the King of Morocco himself to calm him down. King Hassan called him a champion of the Moroccan people and asked him not to cry.
Records After Olympic ‘Choke’
That phone call turned things around for El Guerrouj and he went on a record-setting spree, bringing down Morcelli from his pedestal. He won consecutive golds at the World Championships in 1997 and 1999 apart from setting a slew of records. Of those records, three, two in Rome in 1997 (1500m) and 1998 (1 Mile) along with one in Berlin (2000m), still remain unbroken.
The Sydney Disappointment
Going into the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he was firm favourite but ended up winning the silver with Kenyan Noah Ngeny taking the gold. It was disappointing once again but he got over it by winning the IAAF Golden League three straight times to become the only middle-distance runner to win the $1 million jackpot ever. Plus, he won two more World Championships in 2001 and 2003 during a 20-race unbeaten spree. He won a hat-trick of the IAAF World Athlete of the Year awards from 2001-03 becoming the first man to do so.
Fulfilling A Dream
Come 2004, at the Athens Olympics, the King finally fulfilled his long cherished dream of winning the Olympic gold. This time, he was not content with the gold in 1500m and went on to win the 5000m race too. Thus, he became the first athlete since the ‘Flying Finn’ Paavo Nurmi to win the 1500m-5000m double – after long 80 years! El Guerrouj finally hung his boots in 2006 after completing his sporting ambitions.
Today, the King of the Mile is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is part of a group encouraging more youngsters to take up sport along and promoting peace through it.