RASHID RAMZI: First 800/1500 champ since Peter Snell in 1964

Ramzi - dispelling the myth – TDK Golden League, Brussels
Thursday 25 August 2005
Brussels, Belgium – On Sunday 14 August 2005, the athletics world witnessed, certainly in a male context, something which it had not seen since 1964. In Helsinki at the 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, 25-year-old Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain completed the first global men’s 800m and 1500m double for over 40 years.

In the middle distance running world it should be a time for celebrations to mark such an historic occasion but so far the rejoicing has been muted. It is difficult to party with someone you don’t really know.

That of course, is not the fault of the athlete, who was in Brussels today, ahead of his 1500m race in the Memorial Van Damme, TDK Golden League meeting tomorrow night, and helped to dispel some of the mist which has enveloped the Bahraini in the last year. Ramzi kept a packed room of journalists attentive to his every word, allowing the world to begin to get to know its new athletics superstar.

Rashid Ramzi wins in 3:30.25 in Rome 2004
(Getty Images)

Career background

For most fans, Ramzi, formerly a Moroccan, first blasted into world recognition when scalping a field of the world’s best 1500m runners, which included World record holder Hicham El Guerrouj, with an Area record (3:30.25) win in Rome in 2004. But to believe that would be to forget that Ramzi was already the World Indoor silver medallist at 800m at the time.

But you have got to think back even further to realise that Ramzi, who a skeptical public perhaps would like to assume has mysteriously materalised from nowhere in the last two years, is by no means an unknown.

Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain (l) gets the better of Daniel Kipchirchir Komen in Rome 2005
(Getty Images)

Significantly, Ramzi was victorious at 800m at the Asian Games in 2002 (Busan, Korea). Yet perhaps more notably in late 2003 he surprised another Gulf state African import, Saif Saaeed Shaheen (formerly Stephen Cherono), the World 3000m Steeplechase champion, when beating him to gold at 1500m at the Asian Championships – 3:41.76 to 3:42.79 (21 September 2003, Manila, Philippines).

Out and about on the circuit this summer

A disappointing Athens Olympics in which inexperience meant he did not proceed past the semi-final stage of the 1500m, seems to have increased the sense of mystery, especially when on 8 July this year in Rome he returned to winning ways, improving his Asian record, with the world season’s fastest time, of 3:30.00.

Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain wins the Helsinki men’s 800m
(Getty Images)

Prior to his Rome exploits, Ramzi, the IAAF World Ranked number six, had shown his face during the early summer with a 1:44.73 win at 800m in Lausanne (5 July), and had earlier run 1500m in 3:37.41 in Manama (29 April) and 3:34.74 in Stanford on 30 May, and was second over the Mile in Eugene on 4 June in a national record of 3:51.33.

Helsinki and since…

Now with some of his career details tightened up, what has the double World champion been doing since his victories in Helsinki?

Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain sprints to the finish in the 1500m final in Helsinki
(Getty Images)

“I have been back to Agadir (Morocco) to see my family and relax a bit but mostly I have been training in Rabat,” confirmed Ramzi.

How have your victories changed you as an athlete?

“I am more confident in myself, more confident in my ability to run and win.”

“I wasn’t surprised that I was able to win the World titles, my runs in Lausanne and Rome had convinced me of that but I was shocked emotionally that I had become the World champion.”

“After the rounds (in Helsinki) I felt good, and it was after the second round (semi-final) that I knew I could win the second title (800m).” He was second in a PB of 1:44.30 behind Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy in the semi-final stage. “If I ran the way I wanted to in the final I then knew I could win. I was afraid if he (Borzakovskiy) was ahead of me I wouldn’t win but if I could get ahead of him (before the final sprint) I thought I could win.”

What is your favourite distance?

“The 800m, as it is a little easier,” he said with a smile.

What is your goal now?

“I am very happy to have become World champion and the next goal is the Olympics and also trying to go after the World record (1500m).”

What will you do with your prize money (US $120,000 combined from his two Helsinki wins)?

“I would like to give some of it to young children to help them progress and develop into athletes.”

What do you feel about your former compatriot, El Guerrouj?

“He is one of my heroes and the guy I need to go after because he has the (World) record.”

After Ramzi’s Helsinki feats the commercial world seems to be open and ready for Ramzi to exploit but he conceded that meant he must learn some English.

“My shoe sponsors want to use me in their marketing campaigns in USA but for that to happen they have insisted that I learn English, and so I will be taking lessons.”

So what now, has it sunk in emotionally and psychologically what he has achieved this summer?

“No it will probably take until the winter for me to understand, but I am not thinking about my past achievements, I am only looking ahead to my next goals,” confirmed a confident and smiling champion.

Chris Turner for the IAAF