By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Algeria's Taoufik Makhloufi won a controversial men's 1,500 metres Olympic gold on Tuesday, a day after being thrown out of the event for not trying in his 800 metres heat then reinstated when a doctor said he had dropped out because of injury.
If he was injured the 24-year-old enjoyed a miraculous overnight recovery as he hit the front at the bell and streaked clear of a tight pack with a devastating final lap to win in three minutes 34.08 seconds and follow in the footsteps of compatriot Noureddine Morcelli who won the title in 1996.
Leonel Manzano finished strongly to take silver, the United States's first 1,500 medal since Jim Ryun in 1968, ahead of Moroccan Abdalaati Iguider. Kenya failed to get a medal for the first time in 20 years.
Tuesday's victory completed a remarkable rise for 24-year-old Makhloufi, who began the year with a best time of 3:32.94 but improved it to 3:30.80 - having also taken almost three seconds off his 800 metres best.
On Monday morning he was thrown out of the Olympics by International Association of Athletics Association (IAAF) officials who decided he had not provided "a bona fide effort" in his 800 metres.
He jogged around 300 metres of his first-round heat before stepping off the track having been forced to start after his federation forgot to scrap his entry.
By Monday evening, however, the decision had been 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."
And so it came to pass.
Makhloufi hit the front from the start but eased off the pace after 200 metres as the pack settled. He was well-placed throughout, with the tall defending champion Asbel Kiprop loping along near the back.
The field were still together approaching the bell but Makhloufi, a powerful man alongside a host of lightweight Kenyan and former Kenyans in the final, tore clear.
He had opened a 10-metre lead within moments and continued to pour on the pressure all the way to the line.
"It's the will of God. Yesterday I was out, today I'm in," Mahklouf told reporters. "This is a gift for the Algerian people and for the whole of the Arabic world."
Manzano finished well to take silver in a season's best 3:34.79, with Iguider collecting bronze in 3:35.13
Kiprop, bidding to match London 2012 Games head Sebastian Coe's unique achievement of winning the blue riband event of the track twice, trailed in last after being hampered by a hamstring injury sustained last week.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)