October 1, 2005

Naasi wins men’s half-marathon world title

By Paul Gains

EDMONTON, Canada (Reuters) - Tanzania's 19-year-old
distance running sensation Joseph Fabiano Naasi won the 14th
IAAF men's world half-marathon title on Saturday.

Naasi seemed headed for a third consecutive silver medal
until he managed to push past Qatar's Mubarek Hassan Shami just
before the finish line to win by a fraction of a second.

Shami led down the home straight and raised his arms in
triumph as he approached the finish but his celebration was
premature as Naasi overtook him to win in 1:01:08.

The slip up cost the Qatari $15,000 in prize money as well
as the gold medal. Naasi takes home $30,000 for first place.

Qatar's national coach, Italian Renata Canova, was angry at
his athlete's elementary mistake.

The bronze medal went to Yonas Kifle of Eritrea (1:01:14)
who outsprinted pre-race favorite Sileshi Sihine. The Ethiopian
was credited with the same time.

"I am very happy with this race because the Ethiopians and
Qatari were very tough," said Naasi.

"This time I was prepared I really trained for this. In
2003 and 2002 I was second so I really wanted to win this

On the first of 4-1/2 laps Sihine, the Olympic 10,000
meters silver medallist, pushed the pace before Shami took
over. A 12-man pack was down to five by the final lap of the
21.1 km course.

With 200 meters left Sihine, with his superior track times,
still appeared to have the edge and the hundreds of Ethiopian
supporters were singing and dancing in the main grandstands.

But then Shami sprinted away from the field thinking he had
the gold medal locked up before Naasi's late surge.


The weather probably contributed to the surprising results
as the runners woke up to near freezing temperatures.

By the 1130 start time it was still only six degrees with a
steady downpour leaving puddles across the pavement and making
areas of the course slippery.

Covered by an aluminum foil blanket and huddled beneath an
overhead heater, Shami was good natured about losing.

"I was thinking I had won the race," said the Qatari, who
was born Richard Yatich in Kenya.

"I thought the Tanzanian was (some way) back. I didn't see
him. It is obvious in a competition you don't know who is the
winner until you cross the line."

"This is a first." he said, laughing. "I am not
disappointed. A competition is like that. You cannot say 'I am
the winner' when you don't know who is out there.

Ethiopia won the team gold, their top three runners
finishing with a cumulative time of 3:06:18, with the silver
medal going to Eritrea and the bronze to Japan.

Eritrea's top runner, Olympic 10,000 bronze medallist
Zersenay Tadesse, was a no-show. A back injury and visa
problems had kept him at home in Madrid.