Last but eager to progress barefoot

BEIJING • He was the only runner left on the track. Barefooted.

Abdulah Al-Qwabani, 16, is the newly-crowned Yemeni men's 5,000m champion and the country's only representative at the World Championships.

But when his idol, British Olympic champion Mo Farah, crossed the finish line 0.06sec behind Ethiopian winner Yomif Kejelcha (13min 19.38sec) in the heats, Al-Qwabani still had two laps to go.

"I'm still young. I still have a long way to go," the debutant said after finishing in a personal best time of 16:02.55 - last of 39 runners in the two men's 5,000m heats.

He started training only about a year ago. But his dream is to become a doctor, so he "can help others".

Abdullah Al-Qwabani competing barefoot in a men's 5,000 metres heat yesterday. The Yemeni recorded a personal best but finished a distant last in the race.
Abdullah Al-Qwabani competing barefoot in a men's 5,000 metres heat yesterday. The Yemeni recorded a personal best but finished a distant last in the race.

His father and oldest brother work for the army, and Al-Qwabani is worried about their safety.

"But I can run across the world. I can see it, feel it, touch it. That's the most amazing part," said the teenager, who completed 121/2 laps on the synthetic track without shoes.

The runner who ended up with a cut toe, however, was Farah.

The Briton's bid to retain his double world distance titles almost came unstuck yesterday as he was tripped coming into the final 200m.

The Somali-born 32-year-old, who won 10,000m gold on Saturday, was in control of the race throughout. But he was clipped coming into the final bend, causing him to stumble badly before correcting himself.

To gasps from the Bird's Nest crowd in Beijing, he relaunched himself to finish second.

"It felt all right. I nearly went down - again!" laughed Farah in reference to also stumbling in the 10,000m final. "I hope it doesn't come a third time, that would be bad luck.

"Somebody just caught my legs. It's the way I run, I've got long strides so I don't blame anybody. It just happens. That's why sometimes I just have to be at the front or the back or stay on the outside."

Victory for Farah on Saturday would signify an unprecedented seventh successive win in the 5,000m or 10,000m at a World Championships or Olympics stretching back to 2011.

XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Last but eager to progress barefoot'. Print Edition | Subscribe