Hicham El Guerrouj's win in the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic on Sunday marked a welcome return to outdoor competition for one of the sport's most accomplished stars. The world-record holder in the mile and the 1,500 meters and a national hero in his home country of Morocco, El Guerrouj had felt such pressure before the Sydney Olympic 1,500 that he had dissolved in tears walking to the track for the final. After finishing second to Kenya's Noah Ngeny, he had apologized, again in tears, to his entire nation. El Guerrouj had fallen in the '96 Olympic 1,500 final but had dominated his event since. His dream of redemption dashed Down Under, El Guerrouj took 45 days off from running. He vacationed in London, Paris and New York City—"to forget about Sydney," he says—and it helped. "The people of Morocco had a hard time with my defeat," he says, "but they have to understand that you cannot always win."
El Guerrouj is in the process of switching from the 1,500 to the 5,000. He will run the 1,500 at the world championships in Edmonton in August and then attempt to break Haile Gebrselassie's 5,000 world record of 12:39.36 in Zurich on Aug. 17 "I can run 5,000, not a problem," says El Guerrouj.
He might, however, have one more mile in him. "I would like to come back here next year," he said after his win at the Pre, "and try to break my mile world record."
Dealing with Wild Cards
There is less than universal support for the new USATF rule that requires all athletes seeking to compete in the world championships to compete in the nationals, even if they have a wild card into the worlds from the International Amateur Athletics Federation ( IAAF). Reigning world champions receive IAAF wild cards, but to be named to the U.S. team under the new rule, those athletes must compete in an individual event at nationals.
This rule is what prevents the semiretired Michael Johnson from being added to the U.S. worlds team for the 4 x 400-meter relay, because he will not run any individual event at nationals (or anywhere else). "I don't like being forced to run," says Maurice Greene, who as reigning world 100- and 200-meter champion would, without the new rule, get a pass into both events at Edmonton.
Perhaps the reluctant stars just need a little motivation. To that end, USATF was expected to announce this week that for the first time, substantial prize money will be offered at nationals.