It's not Hawaii, but 200 conquer desert

Updated: December 12, 2004, 5:27 PM ET
Associated Press

TIRIN KOT, Afghanistan -- A U.S. soldier burst into tears after winning Afghanistan's first marathon Sunday -- his thoughts on four comrades killed in recent fighting.

Mike Baskin
Lt. Mike Baskin of Santiago, Calif., crosses the finish line after his 3-hour victory. Afterward, he burst into tears recalling four comrades killed in recent fighting.

Lt. Mike Baskin of Santiago, Calif., ran in the country's thin mountain air for more than three hours before crossing the finish line.

"I just thought about those four guys when I crossed, that they won't be going home with us, and it kind of hit me," he told an Associated Press reporter at the race.

About 200 soldiers and civilians working for the U.S. military competed in the 26.2-mile race at Firebase Ripley, a remote military camp near Tirin Kot in central Uruzgan province.

The Afghan National Olympic Committee said the race was the first marathon in the history of this war-ravaged country.

The soldiers may be in Afghanistan but they were thinking of Hawaii. Plastic palm trees decorated the course, an airstrip lined with gun stores and bunkers.

Jill Stevens
Spc. Jill Stevens of Utah is the first woman to finish Afghanistan's first marathon.

Baskin completed five long laps of the airstrip to cheers and handshakes in 3 hours, 12 minutes, 15 seconds -- an impressive time considering the conditions. Runners had to contend with a bumpy track and the threat of attack in addition to the high altitude.

The race coincided with the Honolulu Marathon and was the idea of Hawaii-based soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

Members of the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, based at Schofield Barracks near Honolulu, didn't want to miss out on the marathon during their deployment in Afghanistan.

The unit, part of the 25th Infantry Division, is operating in one of Afghanistan's most hostile areas. It was hit with its latest casualties when a bomb ripped through a patrol near Deh Rawood, another town in Uruzgan, on Nov. 24, killing two soldiers. A similar attack killed two other soldiers in October.

Helicopters had flown troops in from other bases across Afghanistan for the race. Two jet fighters roared low over the base and into the surrounding mountains just before the start to the cheers of the assembled runners.

Facing high altitude, a bumpy track and the threat of attack, some 200 soldiers and civilians embark on Sunday's race.

One competitor was a young Afghan working for the military, apparently the first to compete in such a race on Afghan soil, but he pulled up after just one lap, complaining that regular soccer games were no way to prepare for such a test.

"These people are very fit, but this is not for an Afghan who only gets tea and bread for breakfast," Mohammed Anwar said, sitting on the ground and looking with concern at his knees.

Some of the course was gravel, but most of it was covered by a powderlike dust mercifully damped down by a rare shower Saturday. Its single hill was dubbed Diamond Head for the Honolulu landmark, an extinct volcano whose base runners traverse twice during the marathon.

Defending champion Jimmy Muindi of Kenya won the Honolulu Marathon in record time Sunday.

Muindi's time of 2 hours 11 minutes and 12 seconds, taking more than 30 seconds off the previous record of 2:11:43 set by Ibrahim Hussein in 1986.

Muindi also became the first man to win the race four times.

David Mutua of Kenya was second in 2:12:56. Three-time winner Mbarak Hussein, brother of the former record holder, was third in 2:13:58.

Lyubov Morgunova of Russia won the women's race in 2:27:32, taking a minute off her record pace of 2:28:33 in 2000.

Defending champion Eri Hayakawa of Japan, running with a fever, was second in 2:28:10.

The runners in Tirin Kot were to receive finisher's medals and certificates as well as black sponsored T-shirts. Their times were to be recorded and listed in a booklet with those of the runners in Honolulu.

About 20,000 people were competing in the Honolulu Marathon.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press