1500m: the sport

Yunxia Qu of China

The 1500 metres is the classic middle-distance track running event. It requires greater endurance than the 800m, and, being run over 4 laps of a modern athletic track course, it involves as much tactical ability as running prowess.

Technically, it has become something of a prolonged sprint, with each lap averaging under 55 seconds for the world record performance by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in 1998 at Rome.

Part of the first modern Olympics in 1896, many 1500m runners also competed at 5000m in this early era. Paavo Nurmi (Finland) became Olympic champion in both events within the space of 50 minutes in 1924. The rivalry between Sweden's Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson between 1940 and 1944 brought the world record down to 3:43, thanks to Gösta Olander's natural training method of long cross country runs twice a day. By the mid 1960s, thanks to the increasingly faster times achieved by the young Jim Ryun (USA), intensive, speed-oriented interval work gained popularity.
Africa, whose athletes have come to epitomise the virtues of talent, hard work and tactical bravery, had their first breakthrough when Kenya's Kip Keino won Olympic gold in 1968. At the 1974 Commonwealth Games, Filbert Bayi (Tanzania) ran a world record 3:32.2 (1:52.2 at 800m).
Just as Roger Bannister achieved immortality by being the first to break four minutes for the mile at Oxford in 1954, fellow Briton Steve Cram was the first under 3:30 for 1500m, in Nice in 1985. It was just one instance of the British domination of the 1500m in the 80s and early 90s, with Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe.
Today it is the North Africans who dominate the event. First Algeria's Noureddine Morceli and then his successor Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, with their punishing training schedules and fearless attitude, represent the ultimate thoroughbred 1500m racer.