By Greg Rowlerson
Key Themes: sporting achievements, empowerment, dedication
“Excelling in international distance running is not an easy caper. Who is willing to put in the hours of everyday training? Who wants to physically exhaust themselves at regular intervals? Who finds satisfaction in testing their mental strength, while pushing through the pain barrier? Who is willing to commit their entire everyday life to being the best they can be?
Abdelkader Kada has coached athletes of exceptional ability who answered ‘yes’ to these questions. The stories of Moroccans Hicham El Guerrouj, Salah Hissou and Ali Ezzine are ones of great success. Success that was achieved through dedication, belief and natural talent.
Inspired by their coach and the earlier deeds of Said Aouita, read on as Hicham, Salah and Ali do their best to defeat some of the greatest long distance runners the world has seen.
About the Author
Greg Rowlerson is a young Australian and unashamedly, an international athletics fan. He has been a semi serious distance runner for seventeen years, participating in many fun runs over ten kilometres and various other distances. His passion and knowledge of Athletics have amassed over the years to a point where he has instant recall of many athletes and their individual performances including placings, personal bests etc.
Much of what you read in this book is based on Greg’s own personal knowledge. To add credibility and further enhance this publication, he spent five months in Morocco where he researched and interviewed one of the athletes mentioned.
Greg is twenty-seven years old and resides in Hastings, Victoria. This is his first book.
When Salah Hissou was born on the 16th of January 1972, his nation of Morocco had little in the way of a distance running pedigree. However, when Hissou stepped onto the world stage in the mid 1990’s, this had changed significantly. In 1972, Africa as a whole had in fact only just begun to make an impact in middle and long distance running. Yet by the mid ’90’s Africa had well and truly conquered the world. Everything from the 800 metres to the marathon in men’s athletics. With America’s African descended negros dominating the sprints, it was hard to find world or Olympic champions who did not have African origins.
International athletics has a long history of course, going back to the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens. On the track, the longest event conducted was the 1,500 metres, though there was a much longer race than this held on the road. The 42.195 kms marathon was an original Olympic event and it remains an integral part of the Games to this day.
In the early years, only men competed in competition and the competitors were generally from wealthy nations. In the early 20th century, most athletics events involved those from the likes of Europe, America and Australia. Yet considering the very little ‘professionalism’ that was displayed from athletes, some of the feats of these early stars were quite phenomenal.
The first big ‘star’ in distance running was Paavo Nurmi. In fact the Fin’s achievements transcend athletics. His nine gold medals make him one of the greatest Olympians of all time. Even with the enormous improvements in race times, the greats of the day still need to be given respect. How would one go about winning nine Olympic gold medals?!
Being an amateur sport, things were completely different than to today. There were no specialized training techniques and most athletes didn’t even have a coach! Some of the eating and drinking habits of the early 20th century runners were less than favourable to good performances and most of them had full time employment, giving them little time for effective training. Being far less professional than today, athletes were also allowed to focus on more than one event at an Olympics. In the modern era most distance runners consider doing a double (racing in two events) as too daunting a task. These doubts would not have entered the mind of Nurmi as he won many medals in the distance running events that were on offer in 1920, 1924 and 1928. This is not to say that today’s stars are not as strong minded as Nurmi. It simply illustrates that the intensity and demands of current day sport are so much greater than in yesteryear.
If Paavo Nurmi was the first legendary distance runner, then Emil Zatopek was probably the second. The Czech was an out and out superstar. In the 1952 Games he won the 5,000 metres, the 10,000 metres and then the marathon. This must be considered one of sports’ all time greatest achievements. I can guarantee that it will never be repeated. At this time, African athletes had not arrived on the scene and the distance running events were very much the domain of the ‘white man’. But this wouldn’t last too much longer.