Hicham El Guerrouj – a running hero

For many people in the UK, the 1500m is a race that had its heyday with Coe, Ovett and Cram. After them – after Peter Rono put an end to Great British dominance of this event in the Olympic final in 1988 – the 1500m sort of lost its shine.

But I think that this is one of the most iconic distances of all. Please don’t misunderstand me, I love all running distances. But I think certain distances are special. They, for me, are about the raw pursuit of fulfilling our genetic heritage. The 100m is impressive, but as a species we’re pretty crap at running fast over short distances and every predator in the savannah would have absolutely no problem making Usain Bolt lunch if he was caught 100m from safety. A squirrel would outrun Bolt by rather a large margin over 100m (especially if the savannah predator was happy to have either one for lunch!)

But the 1500m becomes the sort of distance where the genetic benefits that come with being homo sapiens really come to the fore. Sustained speed-endurance that has beauty, grace, power, tactic… everything basically.

And this clip from the BBC series Faster, Higher, Stronger really illustrates the point that post Coe-Ovett-Cram, the 1500m did not stagnate. It found new heroes. It reached new heights. It became an even more beautiful race to watch. And Hicham El Guerrouj was at the forefront of that. He and Bernard Lagat, now a US citizen and one of Mo Farah’s keenest rivals, created one of the most memorable races in Olympic history. You cannot fail to be moved by this. Have a look at the clip and let me know: how does this make you feel?



Success and motivation

I have just watched this video on the BBC website with Paula Radcliffe talking about running and her career in athletics and the power that the games in London in 2012 are having over the decisions she is making in her life. It really made me think. Personally I think that Paula is an incredible person and an incredible athlete. Where the media and arm-chair pundits do criticise Paula, it is usually because in their minds she has under-performed at major championships – most notably the last two Olympics. But I doubt there is a serious runner in the world who doesn’t know how hard it is to arrive at the start line of a key race in perfect shape, and it is absolutely true that the closer one is to the edge, the harder it is to get the training just right and arrive without either under training or, possibly worse, over training.

I am really pleased to hear that Paula does not consider the issue of her not being in shape for the last two Olympics to be defining in her career or in any way indicative of an unfulfilled life. And at the same time I was touched by the fact that she is clearly still so affected and concerned by the opinions of the people who turn their gaze on her once every couple of years when she races a high-profile event, but in all likelihood have no concept of what it takes to do what she does. She mentions in the video that when all is said and done, running was the thing that Paula did as a hobby and I think, from the couple of times I have met her (albeit very briefly both times) and from the hours of video footage that I have seen of her, that Paula is still at heart a runner who runs because she loves it. I hope that it may always be like that for her and that she can have her dream of performing at the Olympics whilst retaining her sanity in the face of relentless pressure from the media and sponsors and the public.

So three cheers for Paula. Let’s all get behind her and the other runners who will hopefully be toeing the start line of the marathon in 2012 and aiming to be the best runners they can be on the day.