Tuesday: El Guerrouj golden, Iraq dream ends
Posted: Wednesday August 25, 2004 12:35AM; Updated: Wednesday August 25, 2004 12:35AM
ATHENS (Reuters) -- Hicham El Guerrouj finally won an Olympic gold on Tuesday to underline his status as the greatest 1,500-meter runner in history, but the Iraqi soccer team's fairytale run was halted one match from a strike at gold.
The scourge of drugs struck the Athens Games yet again when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped Hungarian Robert Fazekas of his discus gold medal and expelled him for breaking doping rules.
"I was simply not going to lose," El Guerrouj, four-times world champion and world record-holder, said after beating Kenyan Bernard Lagat in a classic home-straight duel to win the only trophy missing from his medals cabinet.
"I am really happy. I feel like a baby, a three-month old baby," said the 29-year-old, draping himself in the Moroccan flag and dancing a jig as the entire Olympic Stadium rose to applaud one of the greatest athletes of all time.
"This medal is for the King [of Morocco] and for my little daughter whom I love," said El Guerrouj, who also holds world records for the mile and the 2,000 meters and has been below three minutes 30 seconds over 1,500 an astonishing 31 times.
His time of three minutes 34.18 seconds on Tuesday made it a case of third time lucky for El Guerrouj, who fell at the bell in the 1996 final in Atlanta and finished second behind Kenya's Noah Ngeny in Sydney four years ago.
For Iraq's footballers, there was honor in their 3-1 defeat by Paraguay in the semifinals of the men's soccer tournament, having endured severe hardship simply to qualify for the Games.
Iraq can still win only the second Olympic medal in the war-scarred country's history if they beat Italy in the third-place match on Friday. Their only previous Olympic medal was a weightlifting bronze at the 1960 Rome Games.
"It is still a great achievement for us," said Iraqi coach Adnan Hamd, whose team prepared for the Games on a bumpy training pitch alongside grazing sheep in Baghdad.
"We are sad about all the women and children who have died in Iraq. The team would like to say that, as Iraqis, we are brothers with all people in the world -- even the Americans."
In Saddam Hussein's era, the team risked being tortured by the former Iraqi leader's son Uday if they played badly.
"I'm very proud ... It's great that the world got to see that we are not just people with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades," Rasheed Rumayed said at a Baghdad sidewalk market.
Back in Athens, the IOC gave Fazekas the boot after he refused to provide a complete urine sample following his victory in Monday's discus final -- a serious anti-doping violation.
Fazekas was the second athletics gold medallist at the Games to forfeit a title after Russia's Irina Korzhanenko lost her shot put gold on Sunday for testing for a banned steroid.
Lithuanian Virgilijus Alekn received the discus gold and a crown of Greek olive twigs after Fazekas was kicked out.
The litany of drug scandals at the Athens Games lengthened, with Belarussian high jumper Aleksey Lesnichiy testing positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol, the IOC said.
But athletics took center stage on Day 11 of the sports action and the women's pole vault proved another crowd-thriller.
Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva set her seventh world record of the year when she cleared 4.91 meters.
She had been one jump away from defeat, and close to tears, on a windy evening which made vaulting a perilous occupation but decided successfully to gamble on an attempt at 4.80 after failing at 4.70 and 4.75.
Czech Roman Sebrle cemented his position as the world's best all-round athlete with a convincing win in the decathlon.
Athletics officials rejected a protest by Russia over the women's 100-meter hurdles final after favorite Perdita Felicien of Canada crashed, veered into the adjoining lane and fell to the track, bringing down Russian Irina Shevchenko.
The United States led the medals table with 25 golds, 28 silvers and 19 bronzes, ahead of China with 24 golds, 15 silvers and 12 bronzes. Japan were third and Australia fourth.
In the boxing, angry home fans hurled water bottles into the ring after light-heavyweight Elias Pavlidis -- bidding to become the first Greek to win an Olympic boxing medal -- was stopped from fighting due to an eye injury in the quarterfinals.
He was ahead of Egypt's Ahmed Ismail on the scoreboard.
Misty May sprinkled her mother's ashes over the beach volleyball court after winning the women's gold medal with American team mate Kerri Walsh.
"Everybody else's family is here, why couldn't I bring my family? She always supported me," May said of her mother who died two years ago from cancer.
Germany's equestrian team made up for losing two gold medals in an ugly legal battle with a crushing team show jumping win.
They had to surrender the three-day eventing team and individual golds when the United States, France and Britain appealed successfully to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over a time infringement by German rider Bettina Hoy.
"I was quite annoyed and emotionally disappointed about the whole eventing thing three days ago," said Ludger Beerbaum, who led the German jumping team.
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