The top six runners in each of the initial three heats automatically qualified for the semifinals. The next six fastest runners from across the heats also qualified. Those 24 runners competed in 2 heats in the semifinals, with the top five runners from each heat qualifying for the finals and the next two fastest runner from the semifinals also qualified.
World record holder Hicham El Guerrouj was the clear favorite coming into the race, but he had a reputation for setting records in races set up by a pacemaker. His countryman Youssef Baba provided the service, sacrificing his own ambition in the final, he took the pace out in 54.14, the two Moroccan teammates leading the two Kenyan challengers Noah Ngeny and Bernard Lagat, separating from the rest of the field. On the second lap the pace lagged to 60.63, letting the other runners back in. Baba disappeared quickly leaving El Guerrouj to burn off the Kenyans taking the third lap in 56.90. But the Kenyans remained close with Mehdi Baala a step behind. Through the final turn Ngeny executed a textbook kick, moving onto El Guerrouj's shoulder, sliding into the second lane and sprinting past him for the gold. Lagat moved into lane 3 with hopes of passing as well but ran out of real estate to take the bronze.
All times shown are in seconds.
Overall Results Round 1
Overall Results Semi-Finals