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Keflezighi 1st American to medal in men's marathon since 1976

ATHENS, Greece, August 29, 2004 - Stefano Baldini of Italy took the lead two miles from the finish to win the Olympic marathon gold medal Sunday and American Meb Keflezighi won a surprise silver in a race disrupted by a costumed intruder who grabbed a runner and pushed him into the crowd.

With three miles to go, Vanderlei Lima of Brazil was clinging to a shrinking lead when he was shoved to the curb by a man dressed in green beret, red kilt and knee-high green socks. Lima was able to get back into the race, but he lost several more seconds and ended u
p with bronze.

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 and only the third in the last 80 years. Deena Kastor - who, like Keflezighi, lives and trains in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. - won the bronze in the women's marathon a week ago, marking the first time the United States had won two marathon medals at the same Olympics.

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

Lima drew big cheers from the crowd at the finish line in Panthinaiko Stadium - the beautiful marble structure 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 the incident cost him the gold medal. But a protest filed by the Brazilian track federation asking that Lima be given a duplicate gold was denied.

"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," Lima said. "It was a very difficult incident because I was very concentrated, knowing I was going to win, and it cut my rhythm."

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, crossing himself and putting up a No. 1 sign with his finger to the television. He ran a personal-best 2:11.29, 34 seconds behind the winner.

Keflezighi, who has 11 brothers and sisters, became a U.S. citizen in 1998. In Africa, he lived with some of his family in a hut that had no electricity. His brothers would hide in the bushes to avoid joining the military in the African country, which was engulfed in a Civil War.

His family first moved to Italy, then to San Diego in 1987, when Meb - whose full name is Mebrahtom - was 12.
Keflezighi and Baldini spoke in Italian as the two chased Lima.
"I told Baldini, 'Let's go get him,'" Keflezighi said.

Lima pulled away from the pack a little over halfway through the competition, which traced the ancient route that gives the race its name.

The two-time Pan American champion, who was 47th in the 1996 Olympic marathon, stretched his lead to as much as 46 seconds before Baldini, Keflezighi and Kenyan Paul Tergat began to narrow the gap.

As the Lima led the runners through the streets of Athens to the cheers of flag-waving onlookers, the intruder struck. He came from Lima's left and pushed him to the side, all the way to the curb and into the crowd.

Police quickly went after the intruder, who had a piece of paper attached to his back bearing the message: "The Grand Prix Priest Israel Fulfillment of Prophecy Says the Bible."

Lima pushed himself free and kept running, and the intruder was arrested. Police identified him as Cornelius Horan, an Irish citizen. In July 2003, Horan, in a costume similar to Sunday's that included another Biblical message, ran onto the track at the British Grand Prix in the middle of the race and stayed there for more than 20 seconds, forcing racers to swerve around him.

The race began in the suburb of Marathon as the sun set over the Acropolis, casting a rose-colored hue on the horseshoe-shaped stadium, which was about three-quarters full.
The runners followed the steep, difficult course over which, legend says, Pheidippides carried the news in 490 B.C. that the Greeks had defeated the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. Bob Baum, Associated Press