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Military race in Qatar runs without a hitch

Everything went off without a hitch _ in Tampa and Qatar.

The past few weeks, Gasparilla organizers worked with military personnel in the Persian Gulf to host simultaneous Gasparilla races on opposite sides of the globe.

After receiving an e-mail from Air Force Major Holly Rawson saying she wanted to put on a Gasparilla Distance Classic at Central Command Headquarters near Doha, Qatar, race director Susan Harmeling went to work.

The next thing Rawson knew, 100 official Gasparilla T-shirts, bib numbers, volunteer shirts, water bottles and finishers' medals were being air-mailed to Qatar via the military from MacDill Air Force base.

On Saturday, Harmeling was at the starting line of the 15K and 5K races in Tampa with tears in her eyes, holding up a cell phone to the starting blow horn. When it sounded, thousands of runners in Tampa took off, along with about 75 troops at the base.

Rawson, who had trained for months for Gasparilla only to be deployed in November, won the women's 15K.

"It turned out to be such a wonderful thing," Harmeling said. "We held the phone up during the national anthem and then for the start. To be a part of it was so emotional."

John Moreland won the men's 15K in Qatar. The 5K winners were Joe Peterson and Annette Bennett.

5K TO THE TEENS: Tampa's Brigithe Moreno and Andy Biladeau won the 5K race, a feat in a field of 7,021 that is even more significant when you consider their ages.

Moreno is 13, Biladeau 16.

The teens also beat some pretty good competition from Florida State.

Biladeau finished in 15 minutes, 26 seconds, or one second ahead of FSU's Mike Walsh and 10 seconds ahead Seminole Kevin Cook.

"I felt pretty good," said Biladeau, the defending Class 2A state cross-country champion. "It's the first race I've run in a while so I looked at it as a fitness test."

Moreno broke the women's tape a little later in 17:58. FSU's Rachel Springer and Anne Clinton were next at 18:24, with Springer taking second by a lean.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY: For the first time since 1997, prize money was awarded in the 15K race, but only area participants were eligible. First-place money didn't compare to former purses ($10,000 to the winners), but there weren't many complaints, either.

The top five area finishers in the men's and women's divisions who accepted prize money received $1,000, $750, $400, $250 and $100, respectively. Some competitors are in college and chose to pass on the prize money.

Women's money winners: 1. Lara D. Shaw, Tampa, 56:12; 2. Judy Maguire, Clearwater, 57:08; 3. Lisa K. Valentine, Tierra Verde, 58:02; 4. Kristy Fuller, St. Petersburg, 58:31; 5. Mary Ann Protz, St. Petersburg, 58:31.

Men's winners: 1. Muchipawa Mazano, Tampa, 49:10; 2. Dror Vaknin, Tampa, 49:59; 3. Rosalino Lopez Leon, Sarasota, 50:19; 4. Lee Stephens, Land O'Lakes, 50:48; 5. Alberto Reyes, Tampa, 51:49.

NO REST FOR THE WEARY: Vaknin not only ran the 15K, but he will put in another 30 or so miles today in the Hops Marathon.

That's because every year he is coaching his Leukemia Team In Training participants, who run the marathon as a fundraiser. This means Vaknin is running up and back and up again, dispensing advice, water and whatever else during the 26.2 miles.

"And then I have to go dance at the postmarathon party with all my team-in-training people," Vaknin said. "By Monday I'll be pretty sore."

BEST RACE EVER?: St. Petersburg's Joe Burgasser, one of the nation's top age-group runners for decades, was honored by getting to wear the No. 1 on his race bib.

Race officials decided to give it to Burgasser when defending champ Ronnie Holassie chose not to run.

Burgasser didn't disappoint.

The 65-year-old, who in each of the past 27 years has run at least one marathon under 2:50, finished in 57:37 to place 58th among the men.

"I think that's the highest level of performance I've ever had in a race," Burgasser said. "It was a just a great, great day. Some people saw that I was wearing the No. 1 and cheered me on."

_ SCOTT PURKS

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