Fastest course in the west.

Iraqi Runner Makes History

Nov. 20, 2012
Twenty-second in a series of the top 30 moments from the California International Marathon’s colorful history. The 30th anniversary race is on Dec. 2. By John Schumacher

At 16, Al-Bahadly competes after fall of Saddam Hussein
The California International Marathon truly lived up to its name in 2003.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2002, Iraqi officials made an effort to help its country’s chances of sending athletes to the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The Iraqi Interim Olympic Committee was set up in the West Sector of Baghdad, which is where U.S. Army Colonel Pete Mansoor, the brother of CIM race director John Mansoor, was stationed.

Colonel Mansoor also became the Executive Officer for General David Petraeus while stationed in Iraq.

Race officials decided to help Iraq’s Olympic effort by inviting an Iraqi runner to compete in the CIM. From a field of more than 1,000 applicants, 16-year-old Ali Hamdan Hashim Al-Bahadly was chosen to come to Sacramento.

Al-Bahadly became the first Iraqi athlete to compete in an international competition since Hussein’s fall, finishing the CIM in 3 hours, 18 minutes and 47 seconds.

The teenager who grew up running and playing soccer, volleyball and basketball showed he had a sense of humor after arriving for the CIM, his second marathon.

“When I told my mom I was leaving, she was sad and excited, and she cried,” Al-Bahadly told The Sacramento Bee through an interpreter. “Then I said that I was going to go (to the United States) and get political asylum and that I wasn’t coming back. That made it worse for her, but I said, ‘No, I’m just (kidding). I’ll be back.’”
Al-Bahadly, who was from Al ‘Amarah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, flew from Baghdad to Jordan to New York to San Francisco. After arriving in Sacramento, he trained with the Oakmont High School cross country team and was a guest of co-owner Joe Maloof at a Sacramento Kings’ game against Minnesota.

He wound up not making it to the Olympics. Iraq was allotted six athletes for the Games, so the marathon team was not included.

But Al-Bahadly did get to savor a trip to Sacramento that never would have happened without some family connections.

“I can tell you if my brother hadn’t been involved it never would have happened,” John Mansoor said. “They made it happen. It would not have happened without him. The state department was just not letting anybody out or in.

“It was an incredibly volatile time … the last thing anyone was thinking about was ‘Let’s get a runner to run a marathon.’”

The CIM is put on by the Sacramento Running Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.

Other SRA events include the recently concluded Lake Natoma Four Bridges Half Marathon, the Super Bowl Sunday 10k Run on Feb. 3 and the Credit Union SACTOWN Ten-Mile Run on April 7.

SRA beneficiaries include the American River Parkway, youth fitness programs, local running venues and aspiring young runners.