El Guerrouj began his sporting career as the goalkeeper for his local football club. However, at the age of 14, he won his first race without receiving any special athletics training, and was encouraged by a teacher to take up athletics.
El Guerrouj began his domination of the 1500m in 1995. He won the World Championship in 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003 and set world records in the 1500m and the mile. Over a nine-year period, El Guerrouj raced 86 times at 1500m and the mile and won 83 of those races. Unfortunately, two of his three losses were at the Olympic Games.
In 1996, in the 1500m Olympic final, El Guerrouj collided with Noureddine Morceli with just 430m to go. Morceli recovered to win the gold whilst El Guerrouj, having crashed to the ground, came last. Four years later in the Sydney final, he faced his former pacesetter, Noah Ngeny of Kenya. El Guerrouj was expected to win but Ngeny overtook him on the homestretch.
At the 2004 Athens Games, El Guerrouj finally experienced the Olympic success he so richly deserved. Firstly in the 1500m, El Guerrouj overcame the fierce challenge of Kenya's Bernard Lagat to win one of the closest races in Olympic history. Five days later he won the 5,000m. This achievement made him the first runner to achieve the 1500m/5000m double since Paavo Nurmi in 1924.