Ethiopian Siraj Gena wins Rome Marathon after barefoot sprint

Siraj Gena of Ethiopia sprinted barefoot to the finish line to win the Rome marathon
Siraj Gena of Ethiopia sprinted barefoot to the finish line to win the Rome marathon on Sunday, March 21, 2010

ROME (AP) — Siraj Gena of Ethiopia sprinted barefoot to the finish line to win the Rome marathon on Sunday, pulling away from two Kenyan rivals near the end.

Gena took off his shoes with about 500 meters left near the Colosseum and then sprinted away from Benson Barus and Nixon Machichim to finish in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 39 seconds.

Gena was paying homage to Ethiopian compatriot Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic marathon gold in Rome having run the entire course without shoes.

“I felt I had to do something to honor Bikila,” Gena told the ANSA news agency. “For me he will always be an enormous inspiration and today I wanted to see what it would be like to cross the line in Rome barefooted like he once did.”

In the women’s race, Firehiwot Dado led an Ethiopian sweep of the podium positions in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 28 seconds.

Kebebush Haile was second in 2:25.31 and Mare Dibaba third with 2:25.38.

Former Formula One racing driver Alex Zanardi of Italy won the men’s handcycle category, boosting his hopes of competing at the London 2012 Paralympics.

“Now London 2012 is no longer a dream, it has become a realistic possibility,” he said.

Zanardi had to have both legs amputated above the knee after he crashed during a race in 2001.

About 15,000 runners took part in the race.