An emotional Hicham El Guerrouj after winning the 1500m gold (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Helsinki

El Guerrouj: 'Not one but 12 favourites'

When the men’s 1500m heats get underway on competition day one at the 10th IAAF World Championships in Helsinki it will be the beginning of a new era for the event which has been dominated by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj for the last decade. 

The four-time World champion and World record holder for the event confirmed early last week that he will not defend his World title in Helsinki. Coming off a tremendous 2004 season capped by an incredible 1500m/5000m double at the Athens Olympic Games, the 30-year-old Moroccan described himself as “mentally not ready” to take on the challenge of defending his crown.

However El Guerrouj has travelled from Morocco yesterday and will be the “guest of honour” watching from the stand of the Olympic stadium this evening as the first round of the metric mile unfolds.

New perspective

“I am obviously a bit sad to be sat here in the stands rather than being in the warm up getting ready for the race,” said El Guerrouj one hour before the evening programme started.

“But it gives me a chance to look at athletics from a different perspective. I can now appreciate how beautiful our sport is to look at and how important it is to be an athlete. I can now see how big a responsibility it is to be the main actor of such an important competition.”

“I would have liked to come and win the fifth World title of my career but my head wasn’t ready. Physically I am in great shape; it’s just that mentally I am not 100%. And I have always competed at 100%.”

With El Guerrouj out of the picture and Olympic silver medallist Bernard Lagat who is not eligible to compete following his change of allegiance, the 1500m is now up for grabs. A conviction confirmed by the Moroccan.

“For the first time ever, the 1500m is an open race with several athletes able to take the title.”

12 favourites for gold

“A favourite? Yes I can think of two or three names but I don’t want to say now. I think we have to wait and see how the first and the second rounds go and then maybe we’ll have a clearer picture of the situation.”

“For sure all of the 12 athletes who reach the final will have a chance. On Wednesday, when the final gets underway there will be not one but 12 favourites for gold.”

“Tactically the final should be an affair for finishers. I don’t see anyone being well enough above the field to make a fast pace so definitely the best finisher on the day will be the champion.”

If El Guerrouj refuses to name any favourite he certainly isn’t shy in praising his arch-rival and long time friend Lagat.

“I wish Lagat was here and I wish he could be the one to win the 1500m World Championships after me.”

“But Helsinki will be the race which unveils a new name. I wouldn’t say the winner will be my successor. I think the man who will win here in Helsinki will not go on and dominate the event. He will remain the World champion for sure but I don’t see anyone taking over the hegemony of the event.”

Back in Moscow World Indoors

A three-time World Indoor champion (twice at 1500m and once over 3000m) El Guerrouj was quick to confirm that his career is far from over and that the Moscow World Indoor Championships next winter will mark his return to a major championships.

“I will definitely be back next winter for the World Indoors. This is my next target and I am training to be 100% ready for it.”

As far as the outdoor season is concerned, the Moroccan wasn’t yet sure whether he will make a definite switch to the 5000m or alternate competitions over both the 1500m and the longer event.

“I think that my next World Championships will be over 5000m but I would still like to run the 1500m because it is an event which I adore. I know all the secrets of the race; I know which are the weakest and the strongest parts of this event. The 1500m and me it’s like a love story and I hope it’s not over just yet.”

Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF