08/07/2012 04:40 EDT | Updated 10/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Kicked out one day, a champion the next: Algeria's Makhloufi wins Olympic 1,500 Metres

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 metres 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."

Ah, if it were only that simple.

On Monday, the race referee in the 800 metres, Makhlouofi's other event, kicked him out of the Olympics for "failure to compete honestly with bona fide effort" after he went out slowly and pulled himself 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."

It 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 metres, then bailing out of the race and standing on the infield and applauding while the other seven runners passed.

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-meter semifinal, held the day before the 800-meter 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 metric mile since 1968, when distance star Jim Ryun took silver. The last previous U.S. gold in the men's 1,500 came from Melvin Sheppard in 1908.

Roger Bannister was in the house for this one, the first man to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile watching a development hardly anyone could have imagined.