Hundreds Participate in Sarajevo Race to Support Peace
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ More than a thousand runners took to Sarajevo’s war-battered and snow-covered streets Sunday to compete in the 13th annual Vivicitta, an international race to support peace.
Fighting the cold and snow, thousands of other Sarajevans lined the streets of the capital to welcome the biggest sporting event in Bosnia since the 43-month war which started in 1992.
``We had only two wishes _ to liberate the city, and once to run with the whole world in freedom,″ said Stjepan Kljuic, a member of the Bosnian collective presidency and the president of the Bosnian Olympic Committee.
Similar races were being held Sunday in other European cities, including Milan, Barcelona and Budapest.
Despite rain, some 4,000 people competed in the Rome race. The Sarajevo run was organized by the Bosnian Olympic Committee and the Italian Union of Sports For Everybody and sponsored by Bosnia’s telecommunications company.
Last year, a similar race took place in Sarajevo, but because of shelling and sniper fire, competitors were not able to run in the streets and had to retreat to an indoor sports hall.
During the war in the capital, 10,615 residents were killed, including 1,601 children, and tens of thousands of people were wounded. Sarajevo was reunited on March 19 after the last of five Bosnian Serb-held suburbs was handed over to the Muslim-Croat federation as part of the Bosnian peace agreement.
With sounds of Beethoven’s Ode of Joy blaring from loudspeakers, Kljuic started the race by releasing two white pigeons, celebrating peace.
Most of the runners were Sarajevans, including many children. Dozens of Italian runners and soldiers from the NATO-led peace implementation forces also participated.
All the participants from Sarajevo ran with the number one pinned to their T-shirts.
The runners participated in three categories: one mile, four kilometers, and 12 kilometers, running in circles around the old part of Sarajevo.
Nihad Mahmic, who has a 40 percent disability from wounds to his leg and arm during the war, was the official winner in the main 12-kilometer race. The 29-year old mechanic and amateur athlete from Zenica, 38 miles north of Sarajevo, had a winning time of 38:32.16 minutes.
Italian runner Alesio Faustini, 36, slowed his pace a few yards from the finish line, allowing Mahmic to cross first as the crowd applauded and cheered both of them.
``I am as happy for him as if I had won,″ Faustini said of Mahmic after the race. ``This was a great race.″
Kljuic said every Sarajevan who participated was also a winner.
``It means that we have won our Vivicitta race,″ Kljuic explained. ``We have won it in a fight against fascism.″