Lisbon 2001 Hicham El Guerrouj (© © Allsport)
he chance for a share of the Golden League Jackpot and delays in his training schedule have decided Hicham El Guerrouj to delay his long-heralded move up to the 5000 metres.
Speaking in Brussels on the eve of tomorrow's sixth leg of the 2001 IAAF Golden League, the Moroccan World Champion over 1500 metres confirmed that he will not be running the longer distance before next season.
Though it was thought he might run in the 3000 metres here, this has been shelved in favour of the Golden League 1500m event: "I cannot see any point in running 7:30 or 7:32. I want to make an impression from the start and quite honestly with the travelling this season, I have not had the time to make proper preparations."
Of course, the fact that Hicham remains in the running for a share of the Golden League Jackpot has also played a part in this decision: "It is not my main motivation, but then again, I do not want someone else to win it. I want to end this season at the top and show everybody that after my title in Edmonton I am still a great 1500 runner."
But, of course, the plans to move up to the longer distance are far from definitively shelved.
"Whilst I will still keep up with my 1500 training," says El Guerrouj, "I do not want to lose that speed, I will start training seriously towards the 500 during the winter. I plan to run the 3000 and 1500 indoors and then I will run some 5000 metre races next outdoor season. I still feel in very good shape and I have all my motivation."
El Guerrouj has always performed well in Brussels - he ran the second-fastest time ever in the 300 metres here with his 1999 clocking of 7:23.09 and tomorrow he will have additional motivation as he will be performing in front of the King and Queen of Belgium: "Morocco is also a monarchy so I feel a special responsibility and honour to compete when the Belgian royal family are there."
But perhaps more importantly, also in the stands will be a number of Hicham's family members.
"I have an uncle and aunt who live in Antwerp and my grandparents are staying here on holiday and will come to the stadium. It will be the first time that they have ever seen me compete so it will be a very special day."
El Guerrouj will also be running for the large Maghrebin population of Brussels who revere the 27-year-old Moroccan and are expected to attend in great numbers. Last time he was here he spent several hours going to visit the areas in Brussels where most of the North African population live and was received with adulation.
"I am just sorry that I have not had the time to do it again this year, though I may try and do so after the competition. They are wonderful supporters and I am also running for them."
Another star who owes much to Brussels is the neo World Champion over 10,000 metres, Kenya's Charles Kamathi. A Nairobi policeman by profession, Kamathi got his first big break when the organiser of the Ivo Van Damme Memorial, Wilfried Meert agreed to let the unknown Kenyan compete after some high pressure salesmanship from Kamathi's manager.
Meert recalls: "It was not long before the Memorial in 1999 and I received a phone call from someone I had never heard of in the United States telling me that he was the manager of a Kenyan athlete - as if everyone isn't, laughs Meert - I told him that we were already full of athletes and that our budget was all used up and that we couldn't take anyone else, but he insisted and said that he would pay the athletes fare and accommodation and if he did not compete well he did not expect to be reimbursed."
The athlete was, of course, Charles Kamathi and the rest of the story is history, Kamathi went on to run the fastest time of the year in Brussels with his 26:51.49 and defeated local favourite Mohammed Mourhit in the process.
A star was born.
Tomorrow Kamathi and Mourhit will both be competing in the Van Damme Memorial, but in different races, a not fully fit Mourhit having elected to run in the 3000 metres, while Kamathi willl be facing Moroccan veteran Khalid Skah, France's Ismail Sghir, Jose Rios from Spain and a another unknown Kenyan whose story could well parallel his own: Philemon Rotich, taken on as a pacemaker, but who wants to finish the race and challenge his compatriot to the finish after taking the pack through 5000 metres in 13:20 (a distance he has run in 13:05).
Once again Meert tried to refuse the athlete and once again the manager said he would pay... we will see tomorrow if lightening strikes twice in Brussels.
Sean Wallace-Jones for the IAAF