US runners largely absent at Tehran’s first marathon

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran’s capital held its first international marathon Friday, which was billed as an opportunity for ”building bridges” though American runners were largely absent.

The head of Iran’s Track and Field Federation, Majid Keyhani, had said there was no ban on any nationality in what he called the ”Persian Run.”

The course took male runners from the Azadi Sports Complex through the Azadi square in western Tehran. Women ran separately, inside the Azadi sports complex.

The race’s website listed 28 Americans among the registered runners, along with participants from more than 40 countries, including Britain, Canada and Saudi Arabia. Keyhani said all the names were submitted to the Foreign Ministry for issuing visas.

Iran stopped issuing visas to U.S. citizens after President Donald Trump first announced a travel ban on Iranians and citizens of six other Muslim-majority countries in January. Tehran later allowed American wrestlers to travel to Iran to participate in a world championship.

American marathon enthusiast Charlie Barkowski, 35, who is based in Greece, said he signed up for the race in January. He had traveled to Iran a few years back and was looking forward to returning to complete his 52nd marathon.

As recently as Tuesday, he said organizers had told him they were still hopeful he would get his visa. But it never came through.

”I submitted everything and just waited. … I even had my bags packed,” he told The Associated Press. ”I’m very disappointed. I made friends from Iran from before and was really looking forward to going back.”

Mohammad Jafar Moradi, 27, An Iranian long-distance runner who competed in the marathon in the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympics, won the race. It is not clear how many runners participated. Keyhani said at least 160 foreign runners, including 50 women, had signed up, in addition to 600 Iranian runners, including 156 women.

Keyhani made a point of referring to the event as a ”Persian Run” rather than a marathon, even though the length of the longest race was 42 kilometers (26 miles) – roughly the length of an official marathon. There were also shorter men’s courses of 10 and 21 kilometers (6 and 13 miles).

A few spectators came out on the cool, sunny day to cheer on the runners.

Women running in the race were required to wear a headscarf or sports bandanna that covers their hair, according to the race website. It also encouraged them to wear long-sleeve t-shirts that cover their hips and to avoid shorts or skirts.

Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has required women to wear the Islamic headscarf and to cover all but their face, hands and feet in public. They are typically not allowed to participate in sporting events outside of enclosed facilities, ensuring they are not seen by men.

At least one Iranian-American took part in the race.

”I’m very, very excited. This has been a dream for me,” Amir Arasta, from Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press. ”I always thought this would be the best route, from Azadi Sports Complex to Azadi Square. When I heard it would be happening I was very happy.”

He said he was disappointed that American runners didn’t get visas, saying if there was more competition the race would have been even better.

Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed reporting.