Maghreb runners win Olympic medals
By Abdou Tajeddine for Magharebia in Algiers – 08/08/12
Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi on Tuesday (August 7th) became the first Maghreb athlete to earn gold at the London Olympics by winning in the men's 1500m race. Moroccan Abdalaati Iguider took home the bronze.
Makhloufi clocked 03:34:08 minutes, followed by Leonel Manzano of the US (3:34:79) and Iguider (03:35:13).
The 24-year-old African champion is not only the first Maghreb winner at the Games but the first Arab gold medallist at the tournament.
He participated in the race after being reinstated by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). Makhloufi was cut from the Games for "failure to compete honestly with bona fide effort" in the 800m heat on Monday. The IAAF reversed its decision after learning that Makhloufi, who was recovering from a knee injury, had not expected to compete in the event.
The athlete sped like an arrow 300 metres before the finish line, leaving all the runners behind him in a scene that showed the strength and control of Maghreb sportsmen in the middle-distance races.
"I am very happy with the gold medal and I dedicate it to Algerians, Arabs and Muslims," he told Al Jazeera Sports after the decoration ceremony. "Algerians deserve this joy. We have demonstrated through this success that Algeria has top athletes, especially in mid-distances and is still present at this level of the competition. As far as I am concerned, I thank all those who helped me and stood by my side. I do not intend to stop at this achievement, but I look forward to even greater achievements in the future."
Regarding his disqualification, he said, "The first decision didn't affect me, as I was sure of participating because I actually pulled out of the race by virtue of an injury. I am a person who believes in fate; I have consequently participated and won the gold and I am very happy, especially as it is the first medal for Algeria during these Games."
For his part, Iguider told Al Jazeera Sports, "It is important that the decoration remained with the Maghreb: Morocco and Algeria were present at the podium."
Former Moroccan track and field champion Said Aouita, who now works as an analyst for Al Jazeera Sports, congratulated the winners.
"I am very happy that Makhloufi was decorated. This reminds me of my dear friend, Noureddine Morceli," he said. "Makhloufi has great potential and his strength lies in his speed and his ability to change pace. He proved to be a great champion, and congratulations to the Arabs for this achievement made by Makhloufi and also by Iguider."
Morceli, the king of middle distances in the nineties, took home gold in 1996 at the Atlanta Games.
The Algerian win in the 1500m distance came as a surprise, according to El Khabar journalist Rafik Ouahid, since Makhloufi is stronger in shorter-distance races.
"He was a star during the playoffs and attracted the attention of everyone including the Algerians and reminded us of hero Noureddine Morceli," the Algerian journalist commented. "In my opinion, the gold of Makhloufi has great value, especially since it is the first for Algeria and saves its participation. London was going to look like Athens 2004, where Algeria failed to win a single medal."
Algeria hasn't earned Olympic gold since 2000, which makes the medal "even more valuable", according to Ouahid. Nouria Benida Merah snatched gold for Algeria in the 1500m race in Sydney.
"It can be said that the gold of Makhloufi and the bronze of Iguider save the face of Arab and Maghreb participation in the Olympics," Ouahid added. "We must appreciate that and work toward having other heroes in other sports because Arabs can achieve this in several sports."
Sport fans stayed glued to TV screens to watch the final race, even though it coincided with iftar. While some followed the tournament at home, others packed cafes to share excitement with fellow fans.
In a café in the Algiers suburb of Bab Ezzouar, an old man was beyond himself after the win. Ammi Brahim paid for the drinks and food of everyone present.
"I was very pessimistic, especially since Arab athletes failed to win a gold medal to that point," said merchant Rachid Hammadi. "But my concerns disappeared after I saw runner Makhloufi starting like an arrow in the race accompanied by Moroccan Iguider."
Thirty-five-year old Ouail Bachir said he was very happy with the Olympic victories. "They have honoured Algeria and Morocco, and the entire Arab region," he said.
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