ROME (AP) — Siraj Gena of Ethiopia paid tribute to an Olympic hero (Abebe Bikila) in winning the Rome marathon on Sunday, running barefoot while outsprinting two Kenyan rivals to the finish.Gena took off his shoes with about 500 yards left and then outkicked Benson Barus and Nixon Machichim to finish the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 39 seconds.
Gena was paying homage to Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome after running 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 in 2:25:28.
Kebebush Haile was second in 2:25.31 and Mare Dibaba third with 2:25.38.
Former Formula One 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 both legs amputated above the knee after he crashed during a race in 2001.
About 15,000 runners took part in Sunday’s race.