Friday, August 22, 2008

Bahrain’s First Olympic Medal, and It’s Gold

....Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi celebrated winning the men’s 1500-meter race at the Bird’s Nest on Wednesday. (Valery Hache/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

BEIJING – Some 91,000 fans stood up to see the red and white flag of Bahrain run up the flagpole at the Bird’s Nest and to hear “Bahrainona,” the Bahraini anthem, resound Wednesday night.
It was a new experience for anybody who had ever been to the Olympics. From the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 to the return-to-Athens Games of 2004, a total of 12,738 medals were awarded to the representatives of 139 nations. Bahrain, a 250-square-mile nation with just 708,000 people, was not on that list.
But, finally, its moment had arrived.
Thank you, Rashid Ramzi.

Ramzi had won the men’s 1,500-meter title the night before, crossing the finish line in 3:32.94, ahead of Kenya’s Asbel Kipruto Kiprop (3:33.11), New Zealand’s Nick Willis (3:34.16) and nine others.
So there he was, on the podium, all delight in the golden experience.
“I didn’t believe in my wildest dreams that I’d be Olympic champion,” he said after winning. “But the dream didn’t come from nothing. I had to work hard to achieve it. I can’t find words to describe this victory.”
So he stopped trying.
Ramzi, 28, moved to Bahrain from Morocco in 2001. He won world titles at 800 and 1,500 meters in 2005, but the victory on Wednesday has topped everything.
He lives in Bahrain for part of the year, but, he said, “It’s too hot to train there on a regular basis.” So he heads back to Morocco –- his homeland, but also that of an Olympic 1,500-meter predecessor, Hicham El Guerrouj — and trains on familiar turf. He continues to say, “I am a Moroccan, I was born a Moroccan.”
Nevertheless, it is the Bahraini flag that is hoisted, and the gold and the glory are headed for the Persian Gulf.