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U.S. runner wins silver medal

9/3/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Everyone knew the marathon was going to be
tough, but no one expected a would-be tackler in a kilt, green
beret and matching knee-high socks.

It was definitely a bizarre way to end the Olympics. Even the
rare silver medal for an American paled in comparison.

Italy's Stefano Baldini surged ahead with two miles to go and
American Meb Keflezighi finished a surprising second Sunday night
in a race disrupted by a costumed intruder from Ireland.

With three miles left, Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil clung to a
shrinking lead when he was shoved into the curbside throng by
Cornelius Horan, a former priest from Ireland.

De Lima was able to get back into the race, but he lost several
more seconds and ended up with the bronze medal.

The 29-year-old Keflezighi, who emigrated from the African
nation of Eritrea at age 10, is the first American to medal in the
men's marathon since Frank Shorter's silver in 1976. Deena Kastor
won the bronze in the women's marathon a week ago, marking the
first time the United States had won two medals in the 26.2-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 into
marble, horseshoe-shaped Panathinaiko Stadium that was the site of
the first modern Olympics 108 years ago. He smiled broadly, spread
his arms like wings and weaved from side to side as he crossed the
line.

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

"When I saw the man who was jumping on me I was scared, because
I didn't know what could happen to me, whether he was armed with a
knife, a revolver or something 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 have won, but things would have been different."

A protest filed by the Brazilian track federation asking that de
Lima be given a duplicate gold was denied by a panel of the
International Association of Athletics Federations. Brazil said it
would appeal to the IAAF president and to the independent Court of
Arbitration for Sport, whose decision would be final.

The International Olympic Committee said it would present de
Lima with the Pierre de Coubertin medal in recognition of his
"exceptional demonstration of fair play and Olympic values."

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

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

He ran a personal-best 2:11.29, 34 seconds behind the winner. De
Lima finished 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 first car at age 10, he ran away
because it scared him. He remembers soldiers surrounding his
village, looking for boys 12 and older to drag off to war. His
brothers would hide in the bushes to avoid them.

His family first moved to Italy, then to San Diego in 1987, when
Meb -- whose full 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 became a citizen.

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

For three weeks leading up to the Olympics, he shifted his
training to the hills of Crete, becoming a popular fixture among
the resort staff where the U.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.

Police quickly tackled and arrested Horan, who had a piece of
paper attached to his back bearing the message: "The Grand Prix
Priest Israel Fulfillment of Prophecy Says the Bible." He received
a one-year suspended sentence Monday and was fined $3,600.

"This means he will probably do this again and get killed, as
in Formula One, or kill someone," de Lima said.

In July 2003, Horan, wearing a similar costume, ran onto the
track during the British Grand Prix and stayed 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 show that determination wins races," de Lima said after
receiving his bronze.

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