Disqualification in 10,000 overturned Gold medal returned to Moroccan runner


BARCELONA, Spain -- Morocco's Khalid Skah kept proclaiming his innocence and asking for his gold medal to be returned.

For nearly 8,500 meters, he and Kenya's Peter Chelimo staged an incredible duel of racing tactics and strength Monday night in the Olympic 10,000 meters.

But when Skah used a Moroccan teammate as a blocking back and later sprinted past Chelimo to the finish, the crowd turned on the winner, and the judges lifted the gold.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Skah said. "I didn't make a mistake. I won. I complained to my God. I think I can always do the best and I can win."

Yesterday, Skah's prayers might have been answered.

More than 12 hours after he won the men's 10,000 meters on the track, and lost the gold on a disqualification, Skah was reinstated as Olympic champion.

The ruling by the International Amateur Athletic Federation appeals jury reversed the first Olympic track disqualification of its kind in 84 years.

But, tonight, during the medal ceremony at the Olympic stadium, the lingering bitterness again could spill over. Skah is due to receive his gold in front of many of the same fans who whistled and booed him during the victory lap.

"I am the best," Skah said. "And I did not make any mistakes."

His time of 27:46.70 was one second faster than Chelimo. Ethiopia's Addis Abebe was third in 28:08.07. Italy's Salvatore Antibo, who had the bronze after Skah's disqualification, was pushed back to fourth.

The controversy was ignited in the closing 1,500, when Skah and Chelimo began to lap the field. But as they came up to Skah's teammate, Hammou Boutayeb, Chelimo suddenly found his path blocked.

Boutayeb refused to yield ground inside, and Skah moved on Chelimo's shoulder. For two laps, Chelimo was sandwiched, and the crowd roared its disapproval.

Finally, Chelimo waved for an official to remove Boutayeb. The official lunged and missed, but Boutayeb yielded to the leaders with a little more than a lap remaining. Then, with 200 meters left, Chelimo finally found an opening and took off.

But, in the closing meters, Skah beat Chelimo to the finish.

As the racers headed into the tunnel underneath the stands, Chelimo confronted Boutayeb and said, "What you did is not good."

He got no response.

Later, through an awkward translation, Boutayeb said: "I am very tired. Skah is very strong."

And apparently, very fortunate.

The IAAF appeals body made its ruling yesterday after hearing from the race referee and reviewing the videotape.

"The decision is final," IAAF spokeswoman Jayne Pearce said.

The Kenyan delegation immediately appealed the decision.

"Should this decision by the jury of appeals not be reversed, the credibility of the entire future of middle- and long-distance running worldwide is in jeopardy," said a statement issued by Isaiah Kiplagat, chief of mission of the Kenyan Olympic delegation. "Consequently, we reserve the right to take whatever action our delegation may deem necessary."

But tonight, Skah is expected to accept his gold.

"All the people know," he said, "that Moroccans always run as individuals."

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