24 Apr

Close Encounters of the Famous Kind

Chris Broadbent with Said Aouita

They say you should never meet your heroes. I’m not really sure why (writes Chris Broadbent). Most of my heroes are sporting and I’ve rarely been disappointed. Mostly, it has been through work, where I have been privileged to cross paths and sometimes interview some of the planet’s greatest runners.

Last week I was on holiday in Morocco. I have a small tradition of heading out on a run whenever I visit a country, to properly explore where I am staying and well, I’ll be honest, it’s a nerdy-runner thing. I like to tick off countries where I have run.

As I scampered along the coast in Agadir admiring the frothing Atlantic and the imposing Atlas Mountains, my thoughts turned to the Moroccan greats of distance running, Olympic gold medallists Hicham El Guerrouj and Said Aouita.  

Aouita was an athlete who particularly struck a chord with me. He won 5000m gold at the first Olympics I watched in Los Angeles in 1984. Four years later, he attempted an outrageous double over 800m and 1500m, falling short with a bronze over two laps. He was also a world class 10,000m runner. Few have ever had such a range of distances.

As a contemporary of Coe, Cram, Ovett – he was a persistent and exotic rival of Britain’s leading distance runners to my young eyes in the 1980s. Lo! and behold, on the day following my run, the great man himself was loitering outside the very hotel I was staying. Thrilled, I became that 10-year-old super fan again. “Said Aouita?”, “I can’t believe it!” “I loved watching you run!” “What are you doing here?!” I spluttered.

“Well, I am from Morocco," he answered, quite reasonably. We enjoyed a great 10 minute conversation, both equally enjoying reminiscing over 1980s distance running and seemingly agreeing that he was crazy to run so many different distances back then. He concluded by wishing me a great vacation.

In the spirit of shamelessly name-dropping, here’s some others I have encountered to varying degrees with my impressions…  

Haile Gebrselassie….very cheerful

Kenenisa Bekele….shy

Paul Tergat….gregarious

Seb Coe…surprisingly potty-mouthed

Mo Farah….playful

Paula Radcliffe….highly intelligent

Liz McColgan…warm and kind

So, do meet your heroes. Often, it can be a real thrill.