Moroccan 3000m Steeplechase gold medallist Abulqader el-Hashlaf (L) powers through the water with Moroccan silver medal winner Hamid el-Zein (R) at the 11th Pan Arab Games in Cairo, 23 November 2007 (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Cairo, Egypt

Morocco’s day – Pan Arab Games, Day Three

The third day of the 11th Pan Arab Games belonged distinctly to Morocco as the North African nation surged to the top of the medals table yesterday (23), passing the overnight joint leaders, Tunisia and Sudan.

Beloua beats the traffic

They won four gold medals in the Military Academy Stadium, with Brahim Beloua throwing in the bonus of a championship record time in the men’s Half Marathon. Beloua complained of early morning traffic on the streets where the race was run but nothing, not even a stubborn challenge from Libya’s Ali Zaidi, could stop him.

Zaidi was attempting to win his country’s first Pan Arab Games gold medal for 22 years and he was on Beloua’s shoulder as they came into the stadium. But the Moroccan proved the stronger finisher, recording 1:02.30, with Zaidi only two seconds behind.

Moroccan 1-2 in Steeplechase

For Abdelkader Hachlaf, the importance to him of winning the 3000m Steeplechase was evident from his celebration. With the race in the bag, Hachlaf began his show of joy 50 metres from home, spreading his arms like wings, turning his head and torso sideways towards the grandstand, and grinning.

Hachlaf, 28, led a Moroccan one-two as his younger compatriot, Hamid Ezzine, 23, took the runner’s up spot. Ezzine has run quicker than Hachlaf this year (8:09.72 to 8:17.03) but he lost out in a tactical battle here. Allowing Sudan’s Peter Roco to dictate a relaxed pace until 800m from home, it was only then that Hachlaf hit the front for the first time.

Leading at the bell, but with a group bunched behind, Hachlaf kicked clear down the back straight, coasting home in 8:39.94. Ezzine followed in 8:42.57 while Bahrain’s Tarek Mubarak Taher, who has a best of 8:07.12 this year, finished out of the medals. Abubakr Ali, from Qatar, was third in 8:43.02.

A former 1500m runner (3:33.66 in 2002), Hachlaf finished third at the distance in the 2002 African Championships and took the bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships the following winter.  Since turning to the Steeplechase, he has won a silver medal at the 2006 African Championships and was ninth at the World Championships, in Osaka, three months ago. Now he has his first international Steeplechase gold.

A long wait for a ‘triple’ victory

Tarek Bouktib ended a 54-year wait for Morocco’s first Pan Arab Games men’s Triple Jump champion. Not since the Games began in 1953 had a Moroccan climbed the top step of the podium but a jump of 16.46 was good enough for victory here.

By contrast, Morocco is accustomed to relay success, having won, prior to this occasion, nine of the 10 titles contested at 4x100m and 4x400m since the events were added to the women’s programme in 1985. The 4x100m squad made it 10 out of 11 with a 47.42 run.

Three champs records

Although this edition of the Games lacks athletes of the status of some who have graced this stage in the past – such as Said Aouita, Hassiba Boulmerka, Ghada Shouaa and Nawal El Moutawakil – there has been a profusion of championship records this week. Belou’s Half Marathon effort was one of three yesterday, taking to six the tally so far.

Egypt’s Mohsen El Anany improved the men’s Hammer Throw mark to 74.22 and, with Safa Mekkawi winning the women’s Javelin Throw (48.28), albeit 10 metres short of the Games record, the host country reached the end of the third of the four-day Games on four gold medals. Only Morocco (8), Tunisia
(6) and Sudan (5) are ahead of Egypt.

They will be expecting at least one more today after Amr Ibrahim Mostafa Seoud continued his remarkable national record-breaking sequence. In winning the 100m on Thursday in 10.38, it meant that, in each of the five international events in which he has participated this year,  Seoud has set an Egyptian record at either 100m or 200m.

The 21-year-old Seoud added another yesterday, improving his 200m time to 20.64 in dominating a heat which included Sudan’s Nagmeldin Ali Abubakr, winner of the 400m on Thursday. In the compromise distance between the gold medallists at 100m and 400m, few are tipping Abubakr.

The third championship record of the day fell to Bahrain’s Nadia El Joufeini, whose solo run in the women’s 10,000m brought her home in 32:29.53. In the men’s 4x100m, Saudi Arabia took the gold medal (39.99). Having won both relay titles at the previous two editions of the Games, the country is building a record to compare with Morocco’s women.

David Powell for the IAAF