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SAID AOUITA 1986 JESSE OWENS INTERNATIONAL TROPHY AWARD WINNER In a world in which people tend to hide their emotions or let others take the risks, Said Aouita is refreshing. He is exuberant and confident. He avoids neither races or racers, running almost any distance against anyone who shows up. He runs not only to win but also to get a fast time. He often stays right behind the rabbit, the runner chosen to set a fast early pace, and then, when the rabbit drops out, he picks up the pace. In other words, Said Aouita delivers-to the paying customers, to the sport and, most of all, to himself. And his deliveries have been something to see. In the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, he broke away toward the end of the 5,000-meter final, and with 70 meters to go, his victory assured, he turned to the crowd and grinned and waved. Moments later, he jogged a victory lap with a Moroccan flag bigger than himself. That year, he ran the fastest times in the world for 1,500 and 5,000 meters. His 1985 season was even better. He said he wanted to break five world records in 1985 and came close, breaking two and menacing the other three. Here is what he did in a six-week span in summer: •1,500 Meters—World record of 3 minutes 29.46 seconds despite a strained hamstring muscle. •One Mile—3:46.92, the second fastest time of the year and the second fastest of all time. •2,000 Meters—4:54.02, the second fastest time of the year and the fourth fastest all time, though he reinjured the hamstring and hopped the last 20 meters. •3,000 Meters—7:32.94, the fastest of the year and the third fastest all time. •5,000 Meters—World record of 13:00.40 Said Aouita (pronounced sigh-EED ah-WEE-tah)is 25 years old, pencil thin at 5 feet 8 3/4 inches and 128 pounds. His feet are so flat that tendinitis has set in, interrupting his speed training, and he must wear special running shoes. He is the eldest of seven children (five sons, two daughters) of a factory foreman. As a youth, he played soccer for a local club until one day the coach had everyone run 3,000 meters. The coach timed the players and was stunned when he realized Aouita's time had broken the Moroccan junior record. That was the end of a soccer career and the start of something bigger and better. At 19, Aouita moved to France to train as a runner and soon became world class. Three years later, he moved to Italy, where he still lives. He speaks fluent French and Italian and some English. He has impressed his rivals with his fierce approach to running. "He is exciting," said Steve Scott, "because every time he goes out, you know the race will be a barnburner." "When he's ready," said Sydney Maree, he just goes." When he's ready, he usually gets the result he wants. And when he does not, his frustration is there for all to see. Take, for example, the 1,500 meters last July 16 in Nice, France. Aouita was hoping to break the world record. But on the last lap, while Aouita's view was blocked momentarily by another runner, Cram took off and left Aouita behind. Aouita closed ground but ran out of running room, and Cram won by a foot. Cram's time was 3:29.67, a world record. Though Aouita's second-place time of 3:29.71 also bettered the previous record, he was depressed. "It was like I was walking down the street," said Aouita, "and somebody passing by threw a bucket of water in my face. I was shocked. I wanted to quit. It all seemed so futile." Aouita was so angry at himself that for two nights he kept awakening and rerunning the race in his mind. Five weeks later, he broke Cram's world record, and the pain lessened. But not the fierceness. "Every time I see Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram," said Aouita, "I want to get inside them, to blow them up, to massacre them. Of course, it's not people I see, but runners that I want to dominate." Bruce Bickford, the American who ran the world's fastest 10,000 meters last year, said Aouita routinely dominated races. "You can't really say you race against Aouita," said Bickford. "He runs his own race. He dictates the race. When you race him, the main thing you notice is that he controls everything." Everything? Close to it. Aouita has run the 200 meters in 22.8 seconds, 400 meters in 46.9 seconds and 800 meters in 1:44.38. He says he is capable of holding every world record from 1,500 to 10,000 meters, and few will argue with him. As Roberto Quercetani, the renowned Italian track expert, said: "It seems he can do anything." 27
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