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home > community > viewpoint > an interview with khalid khannouchi: running the race for the 2000 olympics and usa citizenship

An Interview with Khalid Khannouchi: Running the Race For The 2000 Olympics and USA Citizenship
Kenyans? What Kenyans? While American men are getting trounced on the roads by an onslaught of speedy Kenyan runners, a mild mannered, diminutive, athlete from Morocco has taken on the best that Kenya has to offer and more often than not, left them behind on the way to victory, in road races from coast to coast. There is no one Khalid Khannouchi fears on the road, no distance in which he does not excel. From 5-km to the marathon, he runs 'em all, with predictably stellar results.

An Interview with Khalid Khannouchi: Running the Race For The 2000 Olympics and USA Citizenship

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By Don Allison
Posted Sunday, 5 September, 1999

Kenyans? What Kenyans? While American men are getting trounced on the roads by an onslaught of speedy Kenyan runners, a mild mannered, diminutive, athlete from Morocco has taken on the best that Kenya has to offer and more often than not, left them behind on the way to victory, in road races from coast to coast. There is no one Khalid Khannouchi fears on the road, no distance in which he does not excel. From 5-km to the marathon, he runs 'em all, with predictably stellar results.

In each of the past two Octobers, Khannouchi has lined up at the Chicago marathon. In 1997 he won in 2:07:10, the fastest debut marathon of all time. In 1998, he finished second to Ondoro Osoro in 2:07:20. Not a bad matched set.

Khalid's most challenging and important race however, is not being waged against Kenyans, or any other runners for that matter. His fiercest opponent is time. Khannouchi's most intense athletic desire is to represent the USA in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. In order to do so, he must run a complicated political gauntlet before time runs out on him. Public support may help Khannouchi emerge victorious in this race, as outlined below by his friend Betsi Hill.

Cool Running's Don Allison recently caught up with Khalid, only briefly, to get his views on his quest for citizenship and other topics.

CR: What is the current status of your application to become a US citizen? Sue Kelly (R-New York) is the Congresswoman who is helping me by trying to introduce a private relief bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims. She wrote an introductory letter to Lamar Smith, Chairman of the Subcommittee, last November. Two weeks ago the Subcommittee told Ms. Kelly's staff that they had sent a response, but the letter has yet to arrive. I think the Subcommittee will turn down our request initially. The Rules of Procedure regarding private relief bills specifically discourage expediting citizenship for athletes who want to compete in world championship events such as the Olympics.

Even if the Subcommittee refuses to hear the private relief bill, Ms. Kelly will keep fighting for me. My case needs to be made on the basis of "national interest" instead of my own interest. That is why the letter-writing campaign we have started is so important. We are collecting letters of support to send to Subcommittee members and to representatives and senators in every state, to show Congress that support is broad-based, not just in New York where I live. As we collect letters, we are trying to contact additional representatives to co-sponsor a private relief bill so we can try to run it through the Subcommittee again. At the same time, we need support from some senators to start a bill on a parallel track in the Senate.

There is more information on my citizenship situation on my webpage Letters should be addressed to Chairman Lamar Smith, Subcommitte on Immigration and Claims, and mailed to Khalid Khannouchi c/o Betsi Hill, 30 New Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591.

CR: Are you hopeful of becoming a citizen in time to run in 2000 Olympic Games?

KK: If the private relief bill gets through, I have a chance. If it fails, I won't be able to even apply for citizenship until May of 2001. However, the waiting time for permanent residents who apply for citizenship is now over one year--it's actually closer to two years. This would mean that I would not become an American citizen until 2002 or 2003.

CR: Will you run for Morocco if not the USA?

KK: No. I will not run for Morocco in the Olympic games or any other world championship events.

CR: What would it mean to wear the red, white, and blue of the USA in Olympic competition?

KK: It would mean a lot to me. It's my dream. If I could wear the USA uniform I would hope to do something better than I have ever done before-something that would even surprise myself! I would really try hard to win a gold medal for the U.S. team.

CR: What major races do you have planned for 1999? Will you run Chicago Marathon again? Do you plan to run in the Boston Marathon someday?

KK: I am still planning my racing schedule for this year. I am returning to the San Blas Half Marathon this weekend and I will run the Lisbon Half Marathon before running the London Marathon in April. After that I will take some time off before the summer and fall racing season. I plan to defend my PRRO title in Peachtree this July and I'll return to run the Chicago Marathon in October.

I really want to run the Boston Marathon. I was there last year during the race and the field was unbelievable. I know the course is difficult, but I think the field that's in Boston every year could push me to a very strong performance. If I get my citizenship I would run the Olympic Marathon trials next spring. However, if I don't get my citizenship, I will probably run Boston. I would also like to run New York, since it's my hometown.

CR: Do you think you can challenge da Costa's 2:06:05 marathon world record, set in Berlin last year?

KK: I believe I have the capacity to run under 2:06. My mind tells me that I can do it. The issue is that weather really affects your performance in the marathon. I am hoping for a day with a fast race and good weather to help me achieve the best time possible.

CR: What kind of training do you do that allows you to dominate shorter distance road races and run 2:07 for the marathon?

KK: I train twice a day. I do a mix of tempo runs, track workouts, and use some races as training. I have never trained solely for the marathon. In the future I may cut out several races in the summer and fall racing season to see if concentrating only on the marathon allows me to run a faster time.

CR: Do you ever do "slow" runs, or is all your training done at a fast pace?

KK: Almost all of my training is done at a fast pace. I am still young, so my body recovers pretty quickly. I guess my morning runs are usually slower than my evening runs.

CR: Do you train alone or with others? What is your favorite training site?

KK: I usually train with my friend Rachid Tbahi, another Moroccan runner who lives near the Rockefeller Preserve. Right now Rachid and I are in Albuquerque with Rachid Razgaoui, another friend that we train with. I like variety in my training. I really like the Rockefeller Preserve because it's quiet and challenging. I also like New Mexico for the altitude.

CR: Do you enjoy traveling to different cities in the USA to run road races? What are some of your favorite cities and favorite races?

KK: I like to travel to different places to run, even though I don't always get a chance to stay very long. I like to get the feel of the cities where I run and talk to the local runners. It's hard for me to pick favorite races. I like different races for different reasons. I like the San Blas Half Marathon, since it's one of the first big races that I won. I love Chicago and the Chicago Marathon, since I had a good performance in my marathon debut. I like the Bay to Breakers-I love San Francisco. I like the Providence Downtown 5K since the course is so flat and fast. I was really happy I was able to win this year. The same goes for Falmouth and Peachtree.

CR: Are there any Kenyan runners you consider most dangerous in competition, or do you not worry about the competition and just run your own race? I respect all the Kenyans; they train hard just like I do. In any race, anyone can have a great day and win. Still, I don't fear anyone. I just try to work harder and be smarter in the race.

CR: Why is it, do you think, that USA marathon runners have not fared well in international competition in the past few years? Can Americans rise back up to the top world level again?

KK: I don't know why USA marathon runners are not at the top now. They were back in the days of Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, to name just a couple of great US athletes. One problem is that US runners usually don't train together. Also, the runners here have a lot of responsibilities. I have invited American runners to train with me in New York or in New Mexico, but some are married and don't want to be away from their wives or families for a long time. It's understandable. I think Americans can rise to the top again, but it will take time. Runners need to get a good base running fast 5K's and 10K's before they step up to the marathon. If any US runners would like to train with me, I would welcome it.

CR:Outside of running, what kinds of things do you enjoy doing?

KK: I guess my first answer is eating and sleeping. I am learning to play golf. I like to go to the movies. I also like just sitting and relaxing in my home or a friends home and just making conversation. This was a big part of family life in Morocco.

CR: What aspect of American society has been most surprising to you, since living in the USA?

KK: I guess that families don't seem to be as close to each other here as they are in Morocco. I also see children disrespecting their parents.

CR: Your brother died suddenly this past year. That seemed to affect you deeply. How have you coped with that loss? Are you close to the rest of your family? Do they live in the USA?

KK: My brother's death was very painful. I was closer to him than any of my other brothers and sisters. It was very hard to go and run Falmouth after I found out. But I dedicated my race to him, and somehow I got through it with Sandra's help. I was very sad for about three weeks after his death, but eventually I adjusted. I speak to my two brothers and four sisters pretty often. One of my brothers lives in Connecticut, so I see him a lot. Everyone else lives in Morocco.

CR: Is there anything else you would like to add for our Cool Running readers?

KK: Just that I really appreciate all the support everyone has shown me so far. I really hope I can become a citizen so that I can do something for the country and for my fans that mean so much to me. Thank you.

Khannouchi's Record


3000m: (indoor) 7:59 Boston 1995
3000m: (outdoor) 7:55 Morocco 1993
1500m: (outdoor) 3:43 Morocco 1995
5000m: (outdoor) 13:41 Morocco 1995


5 KM 13:24 Harvard Pilgrim Downtown 5KM RI September 14,1997
4 Mile 17:30 Steamboat Classic. Peoria, IL June 20,1998
1O KM 27:47 Peachtree Road Race. Atlanta. GA July 4 1998
15 KM 42:57 Utica Boilermaker. Utica, NY. July 1998.
20 KM 57:36* New Haven Road Race, New Haven, CT September, 1998
21 KM 1:00:27 Philadelphia Distance Run. Philadelphia PA. September 1997
Marathon 2:07:10 Chicago Marathon. Chicago IL.  October 19 1997. (first time)

*Fastest time on American Soil

Major Honors and Championships

  • 11th Place at the World University Games in 1991. 5000 Meters. England.
  • Gold Medal at the University Game in 1993. 5000 Meters. Buffalo New York.
  • 8th Place at the World Arabic Cross Country Championships In 1991.
  • Junior Moroccan Champion In 3000 Meters,10000 Meters and Cross Country for 1990 and 1991.

Races in 1998:

October 11 LaSalle Banks Chicago Marathon 2:07:19 2nd
September 20 Harvard Pilgrim Downtown 5K 13:27 1st
September 7 New Haven 20K 57:37 WR 1st
August 16 Falmouth Road Race 31:48 1st
July 26  La Course Piu' Antica 11-K, Italy 33:16 1st
July 17  Bastille 5K, Chicago 14:03 1st
July 12 Utica Boilermaker 15K, New York 42:57 1st
July 4 Peachtree 10K 27:47 1st
June 21 Steamboat Classic 4 Miler, Peoria 17:30 1st
May 17 Examiner Bay to Breakers, San Francisco 34:09 2nd
May 3 CVS-Cleveland 10K 28:31 1st
April 4 1/2 Marathon, Italy 1:01:20 3rd
March 29 Carlsbad 5K 13:28 3rd
March 22 Shamrock Sportsfest 8K 22:25 1st



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