Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj showed a far better sense of style than of timing at tonight's world track and field championships. As he coasted through the last 20 meters in winning the gold medal in the 1,500 meters -- winding down a race he called one of the best of the century -- he kissed his right hand and touched his right shoulder. He kissed his left hand and touched the other shoulder. Then he kissed both hands and extended them toward the crowd.
And then, finally, he crossed the finish line, his face showing no hint of exertion. The clock showed he had just lost what seemed like an excellent chance to break his own world record -- had he cared enough to push through the final meters at the same remarkable pace he pressed through the earlier ones. He finished in a championship record 3 minutes 27.65 seconds, missing the world record -- and a $100,000 bonus -- by just over one second.
"I already had the world record," he said later. "This was about winning the world title. I had time to throw kisses."
Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie had time to do cartwheels as he eased down the homestretch of the 10,000 meters, winning his fourth world title with his usual ease. In the discus, an American and an underdog, Anthony Washington, improved from fourth to first place on his last throw (226 feet 8 inches) to win the gold and his first major international championship.
The evening ended badly for Lake Braddock High's Allen Johnson, who re-strained his injured right calf during warm-ups for the 110-meter hurdle quarterfinals and was forced to drop out. Johnson had won the last three straight world titles.
In the women's 800 meters, Ludmila Formanova of the Czech Republic provided a shock to favorites Maria Mutola of Mozambique and Svetlana Masterkova of Russia, unleashing a powerful kick to vault from fourth to first in the last 40 meters. Mutola took the silver.
Washington, 33, was ranked ninth in the world last year and has been considering retirement for the past five years. The Parker, Colo., resident has one son and another baby on the way -- and bills to pay.
"I still can't believe this," said Washington, a Syracuse graduate who takes home a $60,000 check for the first-place finish. "I couldn't throw to save my life [during qualifying rounds] on Sunday. I would have accepted second or third place, that's how bad I wanted a medal.
"Entering the last round, I didn't really believe that I could do better. Victory with the last throw, I thought, `Now, that's left to others, not me.' . . . Maybe the gods said: `Let's give this victory to this guy. He hasn't got anything yet.'"
But the hot, stuffy night belonged to El Guerrouj, who said he blew kisses to his family, the fans in Morocco, and the crowd of about 60,000 in attendance at Olympic Stadium as he crossed the finish line. In defeating Kenya's Noah Ngeny by a comfortable margin -- Ngeny won the silver in 3:28.73 -- El Guerrouj showed he isn't ready to give up his mantle of dominance just yet.
He has won 46 of his last 48 races at 1,500 meters or the mile. In July, he broke the mile world record with Ngeny on his heels.
"My objective right now is to win four world championship medals, one Olympic medal -- because I missed one -- and to break the world record from 1,500 meters to 5,000 meters, if this is possible," said El Guerrouj, who has two world titles and the 1,500-meter world record.
El Guerrouj still hasn't forgotten about his fall at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. With a lap to go, he bumped into Algeria's Noureddine Morceli and tumbled to the track -- winding up 12th.
Tonight's race was conducted at such a fast pace, that even the participants were left in awe.
Said the District's Steve Holman, who finished ninth at 3:34.32: "I've never seen anything like that. To run 3:27 . . . in this heat was otherworldly."
With the seventh-best time of the night, Reston's Cheri Kenah advanced to the 5,000-meter final Friday. . . . Roosevelt High's Suziann Reid failed to qualify for tonight's 400-meter final. . . . Like El Guerrouj, U.S. runner Michael Johnson might have smashed a world record had he not coasted at the conclusion of his 400-meter semifinal race. Johnson posted a 43.95-second time in his heat, just .66 off Butch Reynold's world record. . . . Nigerian sprinter Davidson Ezinwa and Somalia's Ibrahim Mohamed Aden, a 1,500-meter runner who attended George Mason University, have tested positive for banned drugs, according to the track and field's international governing body. Ezinwa tested positive for hCG, a performance-enhancing substance, and was suspended pending a hearing. Aden, who tested positive for the stimulant ephedrine, was disqualified after finishing sixth in the semifinals.