From the moment Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi was controversially reinstated into Tuesday’s Olympic 1,500 metres final, reporters thronging the athletics stadium began boning up on a man upon whom fate had clearly shone its divine light.
So, against the odds but, paradoxically, to nobody’s great surprise, the 24-year-old duly roared to victory in the traditional blue riband event of the Games with American Leonel Manzano and Moroccan Abdalaati Iguider trailing in his wake.
Makhloufi described his reinstatement as “the will of God”, when in fact it was the will of the International Association of Athletics Federations who were persuaded that the Algerian had been suffering from a mystery injury when he dropped out of his 800m heat on Monday.
They had taken a different view after he jogged around 300 metres of his first-round 800m race before stepping off the track having been forced to start after his federation forgot to scrap his entry.
He was quickly thrown out of the Games for “not making a bona fide effort”, only for the decision to be reversed after evidence provided by two doctors confirmed “the athlete suffered from a painful injury, which however, with appropriate treatment, may allow him to compete in 24 hours.”
Having scorched the last lap to win Tuesday’s race in three minutes 34.08 seconds it was no surprise that Makhloufi faced a barrage of questions about his near-miraculous overnight recovery.
“I had a knee injury,” he told reporters. “I was told it might be dangerous to run in the 800m but I wanted to race.”
Asked how he had managed to not only complete three and three quarter laps of the track on Tuesday but fast enough to leave the cream of the world’s middle-distance runners trailing, he said: “Anyone who wins can forget about the pain. I had some massage and I need more treatment but I was able to run.”
Makhloufi said he had remained calm during Monday’s drama, confident that he would be reinstated. “It was only a minor error,” he said.
“I showed that I had the injury so I just tried to concentrate on preparing as I would normally.”
The victory, Algeria’s second in the event after Noureddine Morcelli in 1996, completed a remarkable year of progress for a man who failed to get beyond the semi-finals of the 2009 and 2011 world championships.
His personal best at the start of 2012 was 3:32.94 but that came down to 3:30.80, while he also took almost three seconds off his 800 metres best.
“You don’t win a gold medal easily, I’ve trained very hard,” he said.
“I was in a bad way at the start of the year but I changed my coach and he changed the way I’ve been preparing. I’ve worked hard for 15 years and for the last seven months I’ve barely seen my family.
“When I won my semi-final here it gave me a lot of strength and the belief that I could win the final.”
Asbel Kiprop, who won the 2008 gold after Kenyan-turned Bahraini Rashid Ramzi was stripped of the title for a positive dope test, finished last on Tuesday but said he was happy Makhloufi had been allowed to run.
“It was healthy to have him in the race, it was not a big offence,” said Kiprop, whose hopes of retaining the title were hit by a hamstring injury.
“If he had known he would not have started the (800m) race.
“He had to win in order to thank the people who allowed him to run.”