ATHENS, Aug. 28 -- It took Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj eight years and immeasurable frustration to win his first Olympic gold medal.
It took less than a week -- and a pleasant one, at that -- to double the collection.
Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj wins 5,000 gold to go with 1,500 win, matching the double by Finland's Paavo Nurmi in 1924. "I let my opponents do the work," he said.
(Dylan Martinez -- Reuters)
Five days after winning the 1,500-meter title he had long pursued, El Guerrouj added the Olympic title in an event -- the 5,000 meters -- in which he hadn't competed all season, becoming the first man in 80 years to win both races in the same Olympics.
El Guerrouj, 29, earned the victory at Olympic Stadium on Saturday by outkicking the event's world record holder, a man who had won the 10,000 at these Games with a stunning last-lap sprint. Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele, 22, was also a man, El Guerrouj confessed after the race, that he flat-out feared.
"Yes, I was scared of him," said El Guerrouj after crossing the finish line in 13 minutes 14.39 seconds, two-tenths of a second ahead of Bekele. "He has a great deal of talent. He could destroy all the records from the 5,000 to the marathon."
The U.S. men's 4x100 relay team also featured an abundance of talent, including two men who had won individual golds here and one bronze medal winner. But just like Bekele, Americans Shawn Crawford, Justin Gatlin, Coby Miller and Maurice Greene left the track Saturday with a silver.
"It's better than a bronze, or no medal at all," said Crawford, who won the Olympic 200 meters.
A sloppy exchange between Gatlin and Miller cost the Americans the victory on a night the U.S. men's and women's 4x400 relay teams won gold medals, giving the United States 24 track and field medals overall with only the men's marathon left Sunday. This year's medal haul already tops the 20 the Americans won in Sydney in 2000 and the 23 the team won in Atlanta in 1996.
After Gatlin stepped on Miller's shoe so hard he ripped it on the second baton exchange, the United States fell behind by several meters. On the final leg, England's Mark Lewis-Francis held off a fast-closing Greene, giving Britain the victory in 38.07 seconds.
Greene, who was in third place when he got the baton, leaned in just .01 behind, so close he thought he might have won.
"I hope we pleased the fans, and I hope we didn't let anybody down," Greene said. "If we did, I apologize. I almost caught him in the end, but almost isn't good enough."
Almost wasn't enough for Bekele to become the first man in 24 years to win both the 5,000 and 10,000. Afterward, Bekele chastised himself for not taking off for the finish sooner. In his stunning 10,000 victory, he had sprinted the last lap in 53 seconds. Saturday, he took off at 250 meters. El Guerrouj made a burst at 100 meters and overtook Bekele with what appeared to be ease.
"This was not my day," said Bekele, who set world records in both events in a span of 10 days earlier this season. "If I started at 400 meters to go faster, I might have won."
Guerrouj agreed. He said he trained about 20 percent of the time early in the season for the 5,000, but concentrated on his specialty, the 1,500, an event in which he has won four world titles and holds the world record. Also, he battled allergies in recent weeks, struggling at times to perform well. The last thing he needed, he said, was a fast-paced 5,000.
"When I saw Bekele and his performance [as the race unfolded], I told myself, 'Now, you are going to win because he made a big mistake,' " El Guerrouj said. "Their strength is rhythm. Mine, it is the finish. I believe they made a serious mistake. They will have to wait four years for another race, but I will not be there in 2008."
With this, El Guerrouj laughed. He is something of an expert in surviving four years of second-guessing and regrets. At the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, he was leading the 1,500 but tripped and fell with a lap to go. At the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, he was outsprinted to the finish by Kenya's Noah Ngeny. Both defeats left him sobbing. Last Tuesday's victory in the 1,500 left him crying tears of elation.
Saturday, he simply rejoiced. When he crossed the finish line, he opened his eyes wide and raised two fingers aloft, pushing them toward the nearest television camera.
"I'm very happy -- two gold medals in five days . . ." he said. "I was quite relaxed, very at ease during the race. I let my opponents do the work."
El Guerrouj matched the double obtained by Finnish legend Paavo Nurmi, who remarkably won both races in the span of 42 minutes at the 1924 Summer Games, breaking the Olympic record in both events.
El Guerrouj and Bekele each tried to win their preferred double at last year's world championships. In that race, El Guerrouj beat Bekele, but the problem was, Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge beat both of them. Saturday, Kipchoge finished third in 13:15.10.
Though he was not the favorite, El Guerrouj said he had a strange feeling he would win. He had received a message from a friend who lives in Toulouse, France, who had reminded him of his world championship victory at this very venue in 1997.
The message, El Guerrouj said, was this:
"In 1997, Athens discovered a prince. In 2004, Athens will honor a great king."
Saturday, El Guerrouj felt like a king.