Morocco’s Said Aouita was a key pillar in the Golden Age of middle and long distance running in the 1980s.
With Steve Ovett and Seb Coe in the twilight of their running careers, Aouita was the first of a barrage of north African runners who would dominate the Olympics over a range of distances in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Aouita was all grace; if Leonardo Da Vinci had conceived of the perfect running man the chances are he would have looked a lot like the little Moroccan in full flow.
Tempted out of a career in football by his coaches and mentors, Aouita opened a reign of dominance that would see him unbeaten over 5,000m for almost a decade.
His impact paved the way for the likes of Algeria’s Noureddine Morceli and another Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj to earn glory on the world’s biggest stages.
Aouita was 25 when the Olympic Games in Los Angeles came around, and he’d already secured the world title the previous year in Helsinki.
He was among the favourites and his heat time, a full ten seconds faster than the winner of the first qualifier, sent out a warning to his rivals.
He was renowned for a sprint finish but a series of broken world records in subsequent years showed he could live off an excruciatingly fast pace as well as using a decisive kick at the death if need be.
He ran the perfect tactical race in the final at the Memorial Coliseum. The pace was exchanged between Portuguese runner Antonio Leitao and the Swiss Markus Ryffel.
Aouita was poised on Leitao’s shoulder for what seemed like most of the race and when the bell sounded the Moroccan looked strong. He made a slight move with 300m to go and was matched only by Ryffel.
When Aouita saw the Swiss’ response he increased the pace and quickly built a five-metre lead. He cheekily kissed to the crowd with around 80m to go, knowing the gold was his.
He won in an Olympic record time and many north African runners were able to single out that moment as the inspiration for their own glittering running careers.
He won gold at the 1987 world championships also and dropped to the 800m for the Olympics in Seoul but finished third behind Kenya’s Paul Ereng.