14 MAY 2006 General News La Coruña, Spain

Ghoula, alone but determined - La Coruña

Tunisia's Hatem Ghoula tracks Jefferson Perez of Ecuador (Getty Images)Tunisia's Hatem Ghoula tracks Jefferson Perez of Ecuador (Getty Images) © Copyright

As far as race walkers go Hatem Ghoula is fast becoming one of a kind.

The received wisdom is that the best in the world hunt in packs. Mexico, Russia and China all have strong traditions of group training.

The Tunisian not only fends for himself, he has no coach, no sponsor, no physio and claims his federation largely allow him to do what he wants.

“My coach died two years ago so I look after myself. I was offered another coach by the Tunisian federation but there was no one that I rated."

“I am 33 you see, and not deemed young enough to be of interest to the powers that be,” he said ruefully.

Maybe those powers, will now give Ghoula a bit more attention after a splendid fourth in the 22nd World Race Walking Cup 20km in La Coruna. For 18k he was in with a shout of a medal, but was forced to give way to the great Jefferson Perez and the Chinese Yucheng Han as the pace took its toll.

However, Ghoula’s moment of glory came when he rallied in the closing 200 metres to power past Commonwealth gold medallist Nathan Deakes and claim a brave spot just outside the medals.

“I have a best of 1:19:02, which is the African record, but I have to be honest with you, I have qualities, but sometimes it is hard for me to focus mentally and convince myself I can go all the way and really push it,” is Ghoula’s honest self-assessment.

That’s the trouble with training on your own.

Three hours on a lonely trail gives you too much time to think, and Ghoula has done a lot of thinking since he converted to the sport for a joke.

He gave it a go for a lap of the track just to please his uncle as a 19-year-old, and discovered he was a better walker than he had been a runner.

Four World Cup appearances have shown he made the right choice, even if he has often been the lone Tunisian at the opening ceremony.

He said: “I pay for everything myself, and I do 220km a week including specific speed sessions as well as altitude conditioning at Fort Romeu and Ifrane in Morocco, where Hicham El Guerrouj also trains.”

It was also a rarified atmosphere for Ghoula in Spain, but he admits the oxygen of his best ever finish has boosted his fragile confidence.

He said: “I want a place on the podium for the Olympics. I am a bit disappointed in not getting a medal in La Coruna, but I still have hopes.”

Perhaps the moral is that all good things come to those who wait, even if the waiting is done on one’s own.

Paul Warburton for the IAAF