07 AUG 2012 Feature London, UK

Practical joker Makhloufi stays calm to defeat best 1500m runners in the world

Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria leads the pack in the Men's 1500m Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2012 (Getty Images)Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria leads the pack in the Men's 1500m Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
From the way he postured and mugged for the cameras after victories in his heat, semi and, ultimately final of the 1500 metres on Tuesday evening, it was obvious that Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria is an extrovert character. For sure, confirms Sid Ali Sabour, national coach and head coach of the new Olympic champion’s club, GSP, the national petroleum company.

"He’s a very nice guy, an open-hearted character, always chatting and laughing. He’s a bit of a practical joker, and he certainly knows how to enjoy himself".

Makhloufi certainly had a lot to enjoy, after becoming Algeria’s fourth Olympic gold medallist inside 20 years, after Hassiba Boulmerka (1992), Nouredhine Morceli (1996), and Nouria Merah-Benida (2000). But things had not been so enjoyable the day before, when Makhloufi had run barely half a lap of the 800 metres heats before dropping out. He was promptly expelled from the rest of Games for not putting in a bona-fide effort.

It looked as if he may have been entered in the race inadvertently, been forced to compete, and chose what he thought was the easiest way out. Not so, he said at his press conference. "It was me who wanted to run, but I’d had knee problems, and the team doctors advised me not to run. But it flared up after I began, so I decided to drop out."

"I wasn’t really worried, I didn’t really think about it. There were two options, either I could run (in the 1500m) or I couldn’t. I tried to stay calm, and did my best to go on preparing for the 1500 metres final, and after the appeal, the medical tests proved that I did have an injury".

According to Sabour, Makhloufi had an injection, "to calm things down", but the athlete said it still hurt after his victory, "but when you win, you forget things like that. I’ll continue to have treatment on it, and carry on".

Makhloufi comes from the community of Souk Ahras, close to the eastern border of Algeria, with Tunisia. He moved to Algiers and joined GSP five years ago, according to Sabour, who also said, "He only really came under the aegis of the federation this year, after his good performances. They took on all his expenses, and sent him off for training abroad. He’s been in Kenya, Oman and Sweden this year".

That certainly explains the seven months on the road that Makhloufi talked about at the press conference. "It’s been tough for my family, and for me. The only time my family has seen me has been on television". Part of that travel has also been for competition, and in addition to taking two seconds off his 1500 metres time (3:30.80), he also improved by three seconds, when he won the African Championships 800 metres title, in Benin a month ago, in 1.43.88. "If he’d been able to run the 800 metres as well, I’m pretty sure he’d have got a medal there," opined Sabour.

For time being, the Olympic 1500 metres title suits Makhloufi very well. "You don’t win anything easily, you need years of training, I started when I was 15, and you need a good coach. I’ve changed my coach a couple of times (now Jama Aden).

"I’m happy, and I believe all Algerians are happy for me. This victory gives hope to all Algeria, and particularly to its athletes; and the whole Arabic world. I worked so hard, and this is the result of all my hard work."

"Algeria is well known in the field of athletics, anyone would dream about following Morceli and all those others who paved the way for us to continue that tradition".

Pat Butcher for the IAAF