LONDON -- First they told him to leave. Then they invited him back. Next they'll give him the gold.
Kicked out of the London Olympics for presumably not trying hard enough in another event, Algeria's Taoufik Makhloufi got a second chance after a doctor took his side.
Back at the track Tuesday, he cashed in on that opportunity and won the 1,500 meters in 3 minutes, 34.08 seconds, beating Leonel Manzano of the United States by 0.71 seconds. Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco got the bronze in 3:35.13.
"Yesterday I was out," Makhloufi said. "And today I was in."
If only it were that simple.
On Monday, the race referee in the 800 meters, Makhloufi's other event, kicked him out of the Olympics for "failure to compete honestly with bona fide effort" after breaking slowly and pulling out of the race on the first lap.
He may have simply been conserving energy for Tuesday night's 1,500 final -- not unheard of in the world of track -- but the Algerian coaches insisted Makhloufi pulled out of the 800 because of a left knee injury. When a doctor examined the runner and said the injury was legit, track officials revoked the DQ and allowed him to start in the 1,500.
"I was not afraid of not being allowed to compete," Makhloufi said. "I knew I had two choices. Either I would compete or not be allowed to compete. I tried not to think about it too much. I tried to stay calm, continue with my experience and my training."
Before Makhloufi's win, Sally Pearson won the 100-meter hurdles in the drizzle to serve up a rare dose of sunshine for Australia at these Olympics. Pearson finished in 12.35 seconds to edge defending champion Dawn Harper of the United States by .02 seconds and win just the fourth gold for the Aussies at an Olympics that has been downright dreary for them.
"We're definitely going to get more than that," Pearson insisted.
American Kellie Wells was third and Lolo Jones fourth, a tear-inducing result for the woman who spent four years waiting for a second chance for Olympic gold after clipping the next-to-last hurdle while leading in Beijing four years ago.
"At least this time it was a clean, smooth race," Jones said. "I wish I had a better result."
Earlier, the women's 200 semifinals went to form, with two-time defending champion Veronica Campbell-Brown and the woman she beat both times, American Allyson Felix, both making it to today's final. Also there: 100-meter winner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica and runner-up Carmelia Jeter and 400-meter champion Sanya Richards-Ross, both from the United States.
In the men's 200, 100-meter champion Usain Bolt and runner-up Yohan Blake both cruised through the first round.
But China's track superstar, Liu Xiang, barely made it out of the blocks in the 110 hurdles. Liu crashed into the first barrier and had to hop his way down the track, stopping to kiss a hurdle on the way out. The champion at the Athens Games in 2004 has failed to clear a single hurdle in the last two Olympics.
The Makhloufi win was the latest twist at a Games where the term "Olympic spirit" has certainly been put to the test.
During the first week, four women's badminton teams were disqualified for trying to lose and get a better draw for the next round. Then, at the start of the second week, Makhloufi took his turn -- getting off to a slow start uncharacteristic of the reigning African champion at 800 meters, then bailing out of the race and standing on the infield to applaud while the other seven runners went by.
A few hours after that, he was disqualified. He's hardly the first runner to pull out or pull up in one race to get ready for another. And, to be fair, he was helped off the track after the 1,500 semifinal, held the day before the 800 heat.
"It's not a big mistake. I have problem here," Makhloufi said, pointing to his tender left knee. "It's a dangerous injury, but I'm all right."
Manzano, who might have won this gold medal had Makhloufi not been around, said he wasn't judging what was fair or not.
"If he deserves it, I guess it was up to the people," Manzano said. "I don't know what his objective was. He probably knew what it was, but I really don't know."
Manzano became the first American to win a medal in the 1,500 since 1968, when former world-record holder Jim Ryun took silver. The last U.S. gold in the men's 1,500 came from Melvin Sheppard in 1908.
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