- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

Samia Akbar will be pretty busy the rest of the month.

She was just named to the six-woman squad that will be competing for Team USA at the Yokohama International Women’s Ekiden relays on Feb. 26, in Yokohama, Japan. The runners run six legs each, ranging in distance from five to 10 kilometers.

But before she flies nearly halfway around the world, she is scheduled to run Saturday in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx at the USA Cross Country Championships.

“Yes I am [busy] for the next couple of weeks. I am. Definitely,” said Akbar, just in from a long run yesterday in the cold drizzle.

The 24-year-old from Herndon who starred for American University also ran for the United States at the 2005 Beijing International Women’s Ekiden relays last April as well as the inaugural North American, Central American and Caribbean championships last March in Orlando. She also was third at last fall’s USATF national club championships in Rochester, N.Y.

“I have never been to Japan, but I have been to China,” she said. “That was a fantastic experience. There is only one girl on the team from last year, so I am excited to have the chance to meet new people. Once you start doing these longer distances, it is few and far between to run with others in the relay.”

Akbar said she doesn’t know which leg she will be assigned to run, but last year she ran the 10K portion.

A top-six finish on the eight-kilometer course at nationals next weekend could put some cash in Akbar’s pocket as well as send her back to Japan, this time for the IAAF world championships in Fukuoka on April 1-2.

“To go to Japan again would be fantastic,” she said. “I am hoping to run a good race in New York. It’s exciting, it’s cross country. The weather should be interesting. I’m doing the 8K. Mostly my focus is on the 8K, but I have signed up for the 4K, too [next Sunday].

“I think I have a shot at the world team — absolutely. I feel like I’m in great shape. I just ran 16:05 for 5,000 meters, a [personal best] by 15 seconds at the Terrier Classic [in Boston] two weeks ago. I feel confident that I will run well.”

While Akbar feels that the 10K distance is her most competitive at this point, she said she is slowly moving up to longer distances with an eye on a debut marathon this fall. Her longest race so far was the Philadelphia Half Marathon last year.

“The idea is to move up to the marathon at some point,” she said. “That’s why I am not doing many track races. My coach and I have talked it over [running the marathon] — within this upcoming year.”

Don’t get mad, get even — Though not surprising, much of the news coming out of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, is focused on the drug stories.

Meanwhile, organizers of a professional indoor track meet in Valencia, Spain, put great energy into setting up a field of women to purge from the record books the indoor 1,500-meter world record set by a convicted drug user. The race did not end in time for this edition.

That record of 3:59.98 was posted by American Regina Jacobs in 2003. It was that unbelievable performance — by a 39-year-old, no less — that further fueled speculation Jacobs was using performance-enhancing drugs.

Just more than a year later, Jacobs suddenly retired from a long and decorated running career during the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials in July 2004, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced she had been suspended for four years for testing positive for the banned designer-drug THG.

At that time, Jacobs accepted the ban and agreed to forfeit all of her results starting with her 12th U.S. title in the 1,500 meters, won at the 2003 U.S. championships on the same day she tested positive for THG.

The world record had been set on Feb. 1 and was left intact.

At the Reunion Internacional Atletismo meet, Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal headlined a strong lineup in the women’s 1,500, a race complete with pace-setters.

The record for Jamal would be consolation for the fact that she ran the fastest 1,500 in the world last year, but yet left the world championships in Helsinki in August with no hardware. The 21-year-old Ethiopian-born Jamal, who changed citizenship last year and trains in Switzerland, topped all women in 2005 with her 3:56.79 win in Rieti, Italy.

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