Kefelzighi Wins Silver Medal In Marathon

Aug. 29, 2004

AP Sports Writer

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Three miles from the finish, the leader was grabbed bya defrocked priest wearing a red kilt. An American won a medal - something thathadn't happened in 28 years.

The marathon brought a bizarre end to Olympic competition on Sunday night.The marble bleachers of old Panathinaiko Stadium haven't seen anything likethis since a pair of Greek princes ran alongside Spiridon Louis to the marathonfinish line 108 years ago.

Italy's Stefano Baldini surged ahead with two miles to go and won the gold,while American Meb Keflezighi earned the silver. The bronze went to Vanderleide Lima of Brazil.

De Lima was clinging to a shrinking lead when he was shoved into thecurbside throng by a man dressed in a green beret, red kilt and knee-high greensocks. De Lima was able to get back into the race, but several more secondswere sliced off his lead.

The 29-year-old Keflezighi, who emigrated from the African nation of Eritreaat age 10, is the first American to medal in the men's marathon since FrankShorter's silver in 1976. Deena Kastor won the bronze in the women's marathon aweek ago, marking the first time the United States had won two medals in the26.2-mile race at the same Olympics.

'USA running is back,' Keflezighi said. 'Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.Coming in I was not a favorite, I'm just very happy to win a silver.'

De Lima drew big cheers from the crowd at the finish line in the beautiful,horseshoe-shaped stadium that was the site of the first modern Olympics 108years ago. He smiled broadly, spread his arms like wings and weaved from sideto side as he crossed the line.

Later, he said the intruder cost him a shot at the gold.

'When I saw the man who was jumping on me I was scared, because I didn'tknow what could happen to me, whether he was armed with a knife, a revolver orsomething and whether he was going to kill me,' de Lima said.

'If you stop in a marathon, you struggle the next three or four kilometers.It's hard to get your rhythm back,' he said. 'I don't know if I would havewon, but things would have been different.'

A protest filed by the Brazilian track federation asking that de Lima begiven a duplicate gold was denied by the International Association of AthleticsFederations. Brazil said it would appeal that decision to the independent Courtof Arbitration for Sport, whose decision would be final.

The International Olympic Committee said it would present de Lima with thePierre de Coubertin medal in recognition of his 'exceptional demonstration offair play and Olympic values.'

The race began in the suburb of Marathon as the sun set, casting arose-colored light over the stadium, which was about three-quarters full. Therunners followed the steep, difficult course over which, legend says,Pheidippides carried the news in 490 B.C. that the Greeks had defeated thePersians in the Battle of Marathon.

Baldini finished in 2 hours, 10 minutes and 54 seconds. He waved his handsin celebration, then dropped to his knees in exhaustion after his final lap onthe narrow track inside the stadium. The 33-year-old Italian is the formerEuropean marathon champion and two-time world marathon silver medalist.

Keflezighi, the American record holder at 10,000 meters, showed littleemotion at the finish, crossing himself and putting up a No. 1 sign with hisfinger. Baldini was lying on his back nearby, and Keflezighi bent over him incongratulations.

He ran a personal-best 2:11.29, 34 seconds behind the winner. De Limafinished in 2:12.11.

Keflezighi, who has 11 brothers and sisters, became a U.S. citizen in 1998.In Eritrea, he lived in a hut that had no electricity. When he saw his firstcar at age 10, he ran away because it scared him. He remembers soldierssurrounding his village, looking for boys 12 and older to drag off to war. Hisbrothers would hide in the bushes to avoid them.

His family first moved to Italy, then to San Diego in 1987, when Meb - whosefull name is Mebrahtom - was 12.

He didn't begin running until junior high in San Diego, then went to UCLA,where he won the NCAA 5,000 and 10,000 titles in 1997, a year before he becamea citizen.

The three-time U.S. 10,000-meter champion was 12th in that event in theSydney Olympics. He won the 10,000 at the U.S. trials this year, but chose torun the marathon instead. Like Kastor, he lives in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., wherehe trains in the high Sierras.

For three weeks leading up to the Olympics, he shifted his training to thehills of Crete, becoming a popular fixture among the resort staff where theU.S. track and field team set up its pre-Olympic camp.

Keflezighi and Baldini spoke in Italian as the two chased de Lima.

'I told Baldini, `Let's go get him,'' Keflezighi said.

De Lima led by as much as 46 seconds before Baldini, Keflezighi and KenyanPaul Tergat began to narrow the gap. As de Lima led the runners through thestreets of Athens to the cheers of flag-waving onlookers, the intruder struck.He came from de Lima's left and pushed him all the way to the curb and into thecrowd.

De Lima pushed himself free and kept running, but he was passed a milelater.

Police quickly tackled and arrested the intruder, who had a piece of paperattached to his back bearing the message: 'The Grand Prix Priest IsraelFulfillment of Prophecy Says the Bible.'

Police identified him as Cornelius Horan of Ireland, who had arrived inAthens earlier in the day. In July 2003, Horan, wearing a costume and messagesimilar to Sunday's, ran onto the track during the British Grand Prix andstayed there for more than 20 seconds, forcing racers to swerve around him.

'I think the Olympic spirit prevailed and I prevailed. I was able to showthat determination wins races,' de Lima said after receiving his bronze.

'Never mind the result of the appeal,' he said. 'I'm very happy to havewon this medal.'

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