Mehdi Baala of France wins the men’s 1500 metres - 2004 European Cup (Getty Images) © Copyright

PREVIEW - Men's 1500m

The Olympic winner in Athens, fourtime World Champion and holder of world record at 1500m, Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco has announced that he will not race in Helsinki. His absence leaves the winner of the 1500m open for speculation. The final is raced on Wednesday 10 August.

El Guerrouj has never competed in Finland and he will not be seen in the Nordic capital this time either. The explanations for his absence vary from burnout to persistent virus infection, and El Guerrouj does not feel physically or mentally ready to fight for the fifth gold medal. Since 1996 El Guerrouj has won 84 competitions out of 89.

The runner-up in Paris World Championships and the 2002 European Champion, Mehdi Baala has performed well early this summer and he ran a promising time of 3:30.80 in July in the Paris TDK Golden League meeting at his home arena Stade-de-France. Olympic silver medallist in Athens, 30-year-old Bernard Lagat has changed his nationality from Kenya to USA and will have to wait for the right to compete in major championships for three years, so will play no role here.

Kenya is pinning its hopes on 21-year-old Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, who won the trials in Narobi and finished first in the fast paced race in the Paris race with a  time of 3:30.01. the Kenyan team gear will also be worn in Helsinki by Paul Korir, the World indoor champion, who placed second in the trials, and Alex Kipchirchir, whose season best is 3:30.82.

Ukrainian Ivan Heshko, placed third in Paris World Championships, showed his ability for sprinting by winning 1500 metres at DN Galan in Stockholm on 26 July betaing Lagat. He is among the favourites to take a medal, and so is the ever dangerous fast finishing Portuguese Rui Silva who was third in the Athens Olympic Games.

The holder of the world season’s best in the end of July, Rashid Ramzi from Bahrain, was also number one in Golden Gala in Rome with 3:30.00. His countryman, young Bilal Mansour Ali may have too little experience in major senior championships, although he has run the distance in 3:33.86. Dahane Najem Bashir of Qatar may well offer a surprise, as he has run 1500 metres in 3:31.04. Bashir offered flashes of what might come in Helsinki by winning the Oslo Dream Mile with an Asian record of 3:47.97 just prior to the championships.

In the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki the gold was taken by Briton Steve Cram. Now the country’s celebrated traditions in the 1500m are defended by Michael East. Also USA’s number one, Alan Webb is hoping to qualify in the final of this event. Of the continental European athletes, the representatives of Spain have kept a low profile the beginning of the summer, but it is expected that Juan Carlos Higuera who won the European Cup Super League, could have what it takes at the level of a major championships.

Helsinki 2005 media team