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4th Jun, 2024, Alastair Aitken

If one had to point to who were the ‘Greatest’ competitors over 1500/One mile. in history, one could not possibly leave out the Algerian Noureddine Morceli. He was unbeaten in 15/1500/Mile races in 1991. That was the year he ran his fastest 800 of 1:44.79. But at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 he was 7th in the Olympic 1500 Final. He explained that the reason for that; when the winner was Firmin Cacho of Spain. He told me “The main injury that year was sciatic nerve trouble that stopped me doing the speed work for three months. It was killing me in the muscle.” That definitely contributed to Noureddine’s loss of form on the day also, training in the pollution of Mexico City. In the final he got shoved and boxed in which did not help.

Here were two of his World records he achieved, that he talked about “The 1500 in Rieti of 3:28.6

On the 6thof September,1993. “It was more special because it was the Olympic distance and to be World record holder for that meant a lot to me and sometimes, it is very difficult to make the difference because, each World record has respect and, let’s say the Mile World record I did of 3:44.39, to take off Steve Cram’s World record time of 3:46.33, that had stood since 1985!“ (Morceli ran his fastest World record of 3:27.37 for 1500 in Nice on 12th of July 1995. He ran a 2000m WR of 4:47.88 in Paris on 3rd of July 1995)

He had a clear victory in the World Championships 1500 in 3:32:84 in Tokyo in 1991; He was again Champion in 1993 in Stuttgart 3:34.24 with Spain’s Firmin Cacho 2nd in 3:35.56. He won his third consecutive World Championship 1500 in Gothenburg in 1995 in 3:33.73 with Morocco’s

Hicham El Guerroudj 2nd in 3:35.28. Morceli also won the World Indoors in Sevilla over 1500 in 1991.

In 1993,94,95 he was unbeaten over 1500/mile. On the 17th of August 1994 he ran a personal best 5000, winning in Zurich in 13:03.85. That was on the 17th of August 1994 at a distance he did not race much.

On August the 3rd 1966 was the Olympic 1500 Final in Atlanta. No one was prepared to take the race out fast, and so Morceli led at one lap in 61.0 then at 800 it was Cacho leading. All grouped together and Chacho ran his lap in a 61.3, just ahead of Morceli and Kipkorir of Kenya’ No fireworks at that stage!. Morceli moved out and Cacho followed. El Guerrouje overtook Cacho with 500 to go. As They came up to the bell, for the last lap. El Gerrouje’s knee grazed Morceli’s right foot and while Morceli stumbled El Guerrourj, the World Indoor Champion, fell causing people behind him to be out of sink. Morceli recovered and accelerated, running as hard as he could to the finish with only Cacho, having a vague chance of catching him but with Morceli’ it would be unlikely. Morceli was very emotional when receiving his gold medal, after all the work he had put in over the years to gain his most important accolade. Result:- (First 3 1. Nourredine Morceli (Algeria) 3:35.78; 2 Fermin Cacho (Spain) 3:36,40; 3 Stephen Kipkorir (Kenya) 3:36,72).

In 1997, In a way the writing was on the wall for Nourredine when he came 4th in the World Championships in Athens and, the very great middle distance man was pipped for the bronze medal in the Final by Spaniard Reyes Esteves who did 3:27.36 to Morceli 3:37.37, behind the winner Hicham El Guerrouj who recorded 3:35.83.

Something that Haile Gebresalasie said to me in London wrung true here “ When you talk about sport and talk about athletics; you can not always be at the top for a long time. Always you have to give a chance to the youngsters. It is like a machine . A model 98’ can not go as a model of 2000 . The model 2000 will be faster . You have to accept these things.!”

Looking back at another World record achieved by Nourredine Morcel. It was in Monaco on the 2nd of August 1994 when he ran 3000 in in 7:25.11. That was faster than the previous World record by Kenyan Moses Kiptanui of 7:28.96 ”I respect all my World records because I know how hard it is to take 100th of a second off. It is very, very difficult for me. Sometimes people think it is easy but don’t try it.. If they tried only one lap hard you see how we feel ” I asked him about the ‘’Great Challenge athletics gave him?

“ Within me is something special and why I have that ability is coming from God. I I thank God for it because without God I would never be who I am and, never make it to the top. When God gives the ability, that does not mean you sit back wait for a miracle, you have got to work very, very hard and, you and got to have that spirit and, be veri, very dedicated.”

Back on 9-11 September 1994 at Crystal Palace, that wonderful venue for athletics,

was the 7th IAAAF/Mobil World Cup, now termed as the Continental Cup and Norreddine Morceli, won the 1500 for the winning AFRICA Men’s team in 3:37.70 with Germany’s Rudi Stenzel 2nd in 3:40.04 & 3rd Mohamed Suleiman, Asia (3:40.52) Grayson Pyrah of USA was next and 5th came Gary Lough of Great Britain.

This brings me to an important point in this article. In the first Word Cup in Dusseldorf that I attended. Steve Ovett, running for Europe, I think really broke through as a Big Championship winner on the International scene with a clear win in the 1500 in 3:34.5 and next was Thomas Wessinghage of FRG (3:36.00) and in 4th place of the 8 starters was Abdenhmane Morceli, runnin g for Africa and timed at 3:37.8. He is the older brother of Nourredine and Born on 1st of January 1957. An Olympian, who was 2nd in the African Championships 1500in Dakar in 1979. As a much older brother. Did did he have influence on his younger brother Nourredine?

“My brother gave me great encouragement to be an athlete in the sport because he is the one who opened the door for me. The one who first showed me how, I could put my shoes on

to run in my first track event. I admire him very much, and follow his way. I think if he was doing another kind of sport, let us say soccer or basketball, I would just follow his way. I think my brother is the one who showed me the way in sport”

Like all athletes Morceli progressed from the early days when he came 9th of 95 finishers in the World Junior cross country in New Zealand and in 89-90 studied at Riverside City College in California but his coach being his brother took good care of him.

When he competed at top level how did he fit all his racing in different countries?

“ For me it does not really matter as I like most places. When you are in shape it does not matter. You have to make a very good schedule at the beginning of the season. You have got to make a choice because there are so many meetings around the World and we can not’ do all of them or otherwise you fade at the end of the season . You have to be careful which one’s you chose”