- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2003

“There are times when the importance of an athletics event surpasses the sole boundaries of sport,” began the story Aug.23 on the Web site for the world track and field championships in Saint-Denis, France.

This is true, as long as you do not break or even bend the rules. But the International Association of Athletics Federations broke the rules when it allowed the 22-year-old woman from Afghanistan to line up with the top female sprinters in the world.

Call it a humanitarian act. Call it charitable. Call it of global significance. Call it whatever you want. The rules were broken here.

The world championships are about the best athletes in the world. Getting to the Worlds is a dream for thousands of athletes who have dedicated themselves to making the strict standards set by IAAF for inclusion in these championships.

Yet the IAAF allowed a woman into the 100-meter race who had never even raced before — a woman who had started training three months ago and who had only two training sessions with starting blocks.

And the rest of the women in the race? They had to surpass at least a “B” standard time of 11.34, which is quite difficult for even the well-trained athlete. It is meant for only a handful to achieve.

In the end, Lima Azimi’s appearance at the worlds was a mockery at best. No, I don’t blame her for it, because it wasn’t her idea. She was pushed to do it by well-meaning Afghani sports officials, who told her a week before her race that she would be taking her first trip out of her country on her first plane ride to her first track meet.

The intent: to show the world that the Taliban is gone from Afghanistan and women no longer need to hide in their homes in fear.

Athletics or politics?

Azimi fumbled with her blocks for a while. Then wearing long blue sweatpants and a huge running bib with No. 1 on her chest, she ran an 18.37 in her first race ever. She was more than seven seconds behind eventual gold medalist Kelli White and more than 50 meters back.

Azimi has become a poster child now, through no fault of her own. The world stage should not have been set for her. A local meet like the Potomac Valley Games this weekend in McLean would have been a perfect setting. No qualifying times.

If the IAAF wants to bend or break the rules, it should have allowed Jon Drummond another false start. Then maybe he would not have been the “story of the day” that very next day.

Locally, Lake Braddock High School grad Allen Johnson of Burke dominated in the 110-meter hurdles, winning the gold in 13.12, and Reston’s Keith Dowling was 47th in the marathon on Day 8 of the world Championships yesterday in 2:18:17.

The fastest escort — Ben Cooke didn’t have to worry about one Olympian gunning him down at the finish of the Kentlands/Lakelands 5K in Gaithersburg yesterday. The defending champ knew the night before that Todd Williams, who retired from racing last year as arguably America’s greatest distance star, would be running the 3.1-mile race through the delightful community’s neighborhood with 84-year-old Gaithersburg resident and running veteran Alvin Guttag.

Cooke won again yesterday in a course record 14:39. Naoko Ishibe, winner in 1999 and 2001, won the women’s competition in 17:00. Both are from Silver Spring. She was immediately off to New Haven, Conn., for tomorrow’s USATF 20K.

A two-time Olympian (10th in 1992, DNF in the heats in 1996), Williams was presented a key to the city of Gaithersburg by Mayor Sidney Katz at a VIP dinner on Friday.

“Todd and I have something in common — I watched the Olympics on TV,” said Katz, joking that the “Running for Life Program” that Williams was promoting to school kids and senior citizens around Maryland on a torrid pace the previous few days meant running for political office.

Attending the dinner was Williams’ friend and Reston resident Marc Davis, the 1996 Olympic steeplechaser and current 5K U.S. record-holder who defeated Williams in the 1986 Kinney national high school cross country championship.

“I told my coach that year that I wanted to win the national championship,” said Williams, who has always set tower-high goals. Placing third in that race was future Olympian Bob Kennedy.

Williams, 34, has spent his life in sports. The son of a former minor league catcher, he started out as a football player and easily outran everybody in practice, so his coach suggested cross country. Smart coach.

No Classic — Capital Running Co., organizer of the Georgetown Classic 10K race, announced that the popular fall race will not be held in 2003. It would have been the 24th annual race. See runwashington.com for the details.

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