Double Olympic champion Hicham El Guerrouj, one of the greatest middle distance runners of all time, announced his retirement from athletics on Monday after a brilliant career.

"For 16 years, I've done sports. Now I want to start a new life," the teary-eyed Moroccan told a news conference in Casablanca on Monday.

El Guerrouj, the 1,500-metre world record holder, claimed a remarkable double victory at the 2004 Athens Olympics, winning gold in the 1,500 and the 5,000, and in doing so became the first man since Finnish legend Paavo Nurmi in 1924 to complete the feat.

But the 31-year-old Moroccan has not raced since.

An injury kept him from competition last season and a back injury forced him to pull out of the world indoor championships in Moscow this year.

El Guerrouj has been the undisputed king of the 1,500 and mile for years, but Olympic glory had always eluded him until Athens.

At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, he tripped on the final lap of the 1,500 and finished last. Four years later in Sydney, he watched in disbelief as Kenya's Noah Ngeny surged past him for gold, leaving the lasting image of a teary-eyed El Guerrouj crumpled over inconsolably on the track.

But his third Olympic Games was a charm. The Moroccan held off Kenya's Bernard Lagat in the 1,500 for the elusive Olympic gold. El Guerrouj, exhausted and emotional, accepted congratulatory hugs from the rest of the field as the weight of Olympic failure fell from his shoulders. A few days later, he added the 5,000 title for good measure.

El Guerrouj's dominance of the 1,500 saw him collect four consecutive world titles in 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003.

His world record time of three minutes, 26 seconds, which he set eight years ago in Rome, is still the mark to beat.

El Guerrouj Career Highlights:

  • Born: Sept. 14, 1974, in Berkane, Morocco.
  • Double Gold: 2004 Athens Olympics, 1,500 & 5,000.
  • Silver: 2000 Sydney Olympics, 1,500.
  • Four-time world champion in 1,500 (1997, 1999, 2001, 2003).
  • Silver medallist in the 1,500 at the 1995 world championships.
  • Indoor world champion, 1,500 (1995, 1997).
  • Representative for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), UNICEF and the International Olympic Committee.