TOKYO: Moroccan gold medalist Soufiane El-Bakkali has revealed how his 3,000-meter steeplechase triumph at Tokyo 2020 was the result of years of intensive training with the Moroccan national team.
The 25-year-old runner, who just missed out on a medal at Rio 2016 after finishing fourth in the event, stormed to victory in Tokyo with a time of 8:08:90, ahead of Lamecha Grima of Ethiopia in second and Benjamin Kigen in third.
“It’s an historic achievement for me,” El-Bakkali told Arab News Japan outside Tokyo’s Olympic Village on Tuesday.
“The Tokyo Olympics is like no other tournament, especially that it was delayed for a year. Thankfully I came with a plan and was able to reach a high standard which allowed me to win the gold medal.”
El-Bakkali belongs to a school of young Moroccan athletes nurtured by the track and field Royal Moroccan Athletics Federation, and he paid tribute to its programs and the conditions that have helped him to become a champion.
He said: “Spending three years on the national team helped me so much. In Morocco, we have all the facilities available, and the climate is favorable and unique in the cities Rabat and Fez that wanted to put the country on the map of top runners in the world. It focused on the new generation of 21 to 25-year-olds.”
El-Bakkali pointed out that his victory was the culmination of many years of preparation and training, and from competing with the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners who had dominated the races for years. Tokyo proved the perfect moment for him to take the lead.
“In the previous races, I managed to save my energy for the final, where I started the race fast from the start.”
He also highlighted the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the Games. “The crisis overshadowed the Olympics indeed, and this was difficult for the athletes in particular. But I took precautions before I came to Japan. I followed the same approach that I had adhered to before to protect myself and others from the virus.
“In Japan, I found strong precautions in place already, and I remained protected from the pandemic until the time of the competition,” he added.