Bitter Silver Part 3: Richard Chilemo and The Controversial 10,000-meter Finals of the Barcelona Games

The 10,000 meter race is grueling race that grinds for close to 30 minutes, and yet short enough to still feature fantastic sprints to the finish line. The finals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was no different…but this one has a bit of a stench.

Khalid Skah of Morocco was locked in a two-person duel with Richard Chelimo of Kenya with only three laps to go. Skah and Chelimo were quite familiar with each other. The year previously, Chelimo helped set the pace for fellow Kenyan, Moses Tanui, at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, which allowed Tanui to lengthen his lead against Skah, and eventually win gold. In a race for individuals, that is considered fairplay teamwork.

Boutayeb Chelimo Skah
Hammou Boutayeb, Richard Chelimo and Khalid Skah in the 10,000-meter finals of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

 

Back in Barcelona, at the 24-minute mark of the 10,000-meter finals, Chelimo was in the lead with Skah close behind. That’s when they came upon Hammou Boutayeb, the 10,000-meter gold medalist from the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Boutayeb was unceremoniously lapped, as Chelimo continued his lead over Skah. “This is one of the most exciting races I ever witnessed,” said one of the broadcasters. “The crowd has stayed behind. It’s 25 to 11 (pm) in the Barcelona, Spain and 60,000 people in the stadium still cheering on these two athletes.”

Suddenly at the 25;10 mark, Boutayeb swung out wide and passed Chelimo, sliding into the innermost lane, placing Chelimo in a Moroccon sandwich. Chelimo at that point is very likely peeved that Boutayeb, a man he lapped, is playing tactics, but the Kenyan decides to push ahead of Boutayeb. Skah followed closely behind. After the announcer said “that was the dirtiest trick we’ve seen all night,” Boutayeb again sprinted out front, playing the pacemaker.

Official trying to stop Hammouj Boutayeb
Official trying to stop Boutayeb.

And remarkably, as Chelimo and Skah pass Boutayeb, a Swedish official named Carl-Gustav Tollemar, came out onto the track in an attempt to grab and stop Boutayeb for nought. With one lap to go, Chelimo and Skah finally separated from Boutayeb and the two drove to an incredible back-and-forth sprint in the final 100 meters, ending with the Moroccan taking gold in a dramatic finish. Here’s how the announcers responded:

  • A: Listen to the crowd. They don’t like it.
  • B: I don’t like it. You don’t like it. The crowd of 60,000 people don’t like it.
  • A: They’re booing and whistling and throwing things here at Skah. It’s a bit unfortunate for him but he used Boutayeb for two or three laps and there will probably be a protest from the Kenyan group.

As it turns out, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) quickly disqualified Skah, making Chelimo the gold medal champion. Skah was informed that he was disqualified because he was seen talking with Boutayeb during the race, and was thus colluding with Skah to beat Chelimo. When Skah heard that, he exploded. According to The Complete Book of the Olympics 2012 Edition, Skah “had harsh words for Boutayeb, whom he accused of being an ‘animal, an imbecile’ who didn’t even know how to read or write.” Skah explained that he was actually telling Boutayeb to “go away and stop interfering”.

The next day, the IAAF Jury of Appeal ruled in favor of Skah, stating in the end that they could not prove any illegal assistance provided by Boutayeb to Skah, and that “Chelimo’s progress had not been physically impaired.” While the rulebook was eventually amended to penalize actions like the one Boutayeb took, Chelimo remained the silver medalist.

Boutayeb had nothing to say to the media.