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29 Sep 2000
Sydney 2000

Ngeny outpaces stunned El Guerrouj

You could argue that nobody has ever managed a better Olympic record than Kenya's Noah Ngeny. He competed in just one Olympic Games, ran in two heats and one final – and won all three races. What's more his gold medal came thanks to victory over one of the biggest stars of his sport.

Ngeny came to Sydney to race in the 1,500m, knowing he would be pitted against one of the hottest favourites in history, Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco.

The Moroccan had fallen and finished last in the 1996 final but had responded to that setback by hitting peak form, and was, many felt, running better than anyone had ever run over 1,500m. He lost only one race at either 1,500m or the mile between the 1996 and 2000 Games and arrived in Sydney on the back of 28 consecutive victories and back-to-back world titles. He had also broken both the 1,500m and mile world records.

But Ngeny had emerged as a serious challenger. He finished second behind El Guerrouj on the night the Moroccan had broken the mile world record, with Ngeny also beating the previous mark. He also won silver behind El Guerrouj at the World Championships and, while he had never beaten his rival, Ngeny appeared to be closing the gap.

The two adversaries won their semi-finals but still the crowd expected to see El Guerrouj take gold. The Moroccan hit the front a little after 900m, with Ngeny and his fellow Kenyan Bernard Lagat just behind.

El Guerrouj increased the pace and the Kenyans responded. And then Ngeny came alongside and then, inexorably, he overtook some 50m from the finishing line and held on to win gold by 0.25 seconds. El Guerrouj took silver, with Lagat just a sliver behind in third.

The great Moroccan had again missed out on victory at the Olympics, and put his head in his hands, tears flowing. Ngeny, meanwhile, was jubilant and he returned home to a hero’s reception.

In the coming years the two men enjoyed contrasting fortunes. Ngeny was involved in a car crash in 2001 and suffered injuries that forced him first to miss the 2004 Games and then to retire in 2006. El Guerrouj, meanwhile, won the 2001 and 2003 world titles and finally, in 2004, took the Olympic gold he so wanted.

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