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23 Jul 2015
IOC News

Paul Tergat: “I’ll always remember Sydney”

One of the greats of cross-country and long-distance running, Kenya’s Paul Tergat finished second to Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie in the 10,000m at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, where the pair fought out a memorable duel. In the latest interview for our Words of Olympians series, Tergat recalls the scintillating sprint finish in Sydney.

Paul Tergat was one of the stars of long-distance and cross-country running in the 1990s and early 2000s. In additional to winning five consecutive cross-country world titles in the second half of the nineties, he also held world records in the 10,000m (with a time of 27:26.25, set in Brussels on 22 August 1997), the marathon (2:04.55 in Berlin in 2003) and the half marathon (59:17 in Milan in 1998).

As if that were not enough, he won two Olympic 10,000m silver medals – finishing behind Haile Gebrselassie at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 – and two world championship silvers over the same distance in Athens in 1997 and Seville in 1999.

Despite his undoubted pedigree, Tergat always had to fight hard for his place in Kenya’s Olympic teams due to the consistently tough competition for places among the country’s long-distance runners.

“Selection itself was so intense, more than even getting a medal, except in the Olympic Games, because once you are in the Olympics you are operating in a different league,” he explains. “It changes your status. It changes you as a person in terms of exposure…. Whether you have a medal or not, when you compete in the Olympics you are already an Olympian.”

Tergat’s final Olympic 10,000m appearance came at Sydney 2000, which was a memorable occasion in more ways than one: “That was one race I’ll never forget. It was going to be my last 10,000m competition of any kind on the track. I was going to try the very best I can to make sure that I win the event.” 

The Kenyan was sitting in third place as the bell sounded for the final lap. Deciding to kick for home on the back straight, he opened up a slight lead on his great Ethiopian rival and was still out front as the duo turned into the home straight. Digging deep, however, Gebrselassie found the pace he needed in a searing finish, squeezing past Tergat to retain his Olympic title by a mere nine 100ths of a second, leaving the Kenyan to pick up silver for the second Games running.

Taking stock of it all, Tergat says: “When I lost I know that I lost to a better guy who has trained better than me, and I didn’t feel bad. The only thing is that losing an Olympic gold medal by 100ths of a second was so painful at the end, but again that’s how sport is, and Haile is a very good friend of mine.

“The emotions and excitement of actually going to the podium, and you know back at home millions of people watching the same event, and it was such an incredible experience.”

The Kenyan returned to the Olympic stage at Athens 2004, taking 10th place in the marathon behind Italy’s Stefano Baldini.

A captain in the Kenyan Air Force for 20 years, Tergat sits on the boards of a number of educational establishments in his country, where he also helps organise sporting events. As well as being a member of the IAAF Athletes’ Commission and the Kenyan National Olympic Committee, he has set up a charity foundation in his own name and is a United Nations World Food Programme Ambassador Against Hunger.

©Getty Images

Awarded honorary doctorates by Moi University in Kenya and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, Tergat was elected to the International Olympic Committee at the 125th IOC session in Buenos Aires on 10 September 2013.

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