General News Helsinki, Finland

Ramzi absorbs Athens lesson

Rashid Ramzi backs his 1500m gold with an 800m win (Getty Images)Rashid Ramzi backs his 1500m gold with an 800m win (Getty Images) © Copyright

In just his second season of elite international racing, Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain completed the first-ever middle distance double at a World Athletics championship after his 1:44.24 victory in the 800 metres. It was date with destiny that few anticipated, except perhaps for the 25-year-old Ramzi himself.

“It was the first time I tried to do this double, and I thought I had the ability to do it,” Ramzi said after duplicating a feat that was last accomplished at a major competition by New Zealand’s Peter Snell at the 1964 Summer Olympics. “After winning the gold in the 1500, I wasn’t sure about the 800. I knew it was going to be decided in the final straight and I was ready for that.”

Last minute decision

Indeed, as his manger John Nubani confirmed, it wasn’t even determined that Ramzi would contest the shorter event until the 1500. “If he won the 1500, then we’d come back and run the 800.”

In hindsight, the decision was an easy one after a commanding 1500 metre victory that quickly put the world on notice and nearly instantly elevated Ramzi into the role of favourite, despite having run just one 800 metre race this season. Ramzi trained exclusively for the 1500 until his surprise win in the 800 in Lausanne in July; after his 1:44.73 PB there, his coach Khalid Boulami added the shorter distance to his training repertoire.

After lowering his personal best twice in Helsinki, first to 1:44.30 in his semi and again to 1:44.24 in the final, he’s proved to be a very quick learner.

“I like the 800 very much,” the bashful Ramzi confirmed, “but the 1500 is my event. But God willing I’m hoping to be able to do the 800 and 1500 on a regular basis. I’d like to try it in the Olympics as well.”

Making up from Athens disappointment

At the last Olympics, Ramzi didn’t reach the final despite running some very fast times in the early part of the season. It was a disappointment that weighed heavily on shoulders since.

“In Athens, I was really ready to win the 1500 in Athens,” he said, ‘and I didn’t make it. So that really pushed me to today to complete this double.”

Despite his limited experience in championships races, Ramzi exhibited extraordinary tactical prowess and the ability to make the quick decisions so pivotal in the two-lap event.

In the final, Ramzi said, “I thought that all the athletes would be together. I thought that Yuriy had the same tactic that I did, to wait and come from behind to use his speed. Yuriy has the best speed from 400 metres out and I was worried about him. So I was trying to do what Yuriy was doing.”

He also seems to absorb lessons quickly.

“In the semi final,” he said, “I got behind Yuriy and couldn’t catch him. So in the final I had to get in front of Yuriy to beat him.  I was afraid of the Kenyans as well and I wanted to make sure that things would go fast. So I wanted to be ahead of them, or right where I needed to be to make my move.”

The one to beat

While Ramzi may have surprised many with his performances this week, William Yiampoy, who finished third in 1:44.55, was not among them.

“After his 1500, we were all expecting that he was the man to beat,” said Yiampoy.

As someone who grew up fully aware of the exploits of legends such as Nourredine Morceli, Said Aouita and Hicham El Guerrouj, he hopes to remain the man to beat.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF