Subject: AP: E Timor makes debut at Asian Athletics titles

East Timor makes debut at Asian Athletics titles; parades two runners

September 20, 2003 9:17am Associated Press WorldStream

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - East Timor marked its recent installation as the 45th member of the Asian Athletics Association by parading two runners into the continental championship for the first time at Saturday's opening ceremonies.

Mariana Dias Jimenez, 21, a third-year international relations student of Maulear University, will compete in the women's 5,000 meters, while Laurencio Brietas da Silva ran in the men's 1,500.

``I am happy and feel proud to represent my country in this international competition. And it feels good to race against the best runners in Asia,' said Jimenez, who grew up under Indonesian rule in East Timor and aspires to be an ambassador for the new republic.

Da Silva faced a tough assignment in the preliminaries, hoping to qualify for Sunday's final in 1,500.

He came up against Saif Saeed Shaheen, the world champion at 3,000 steeple chase, in the first heat of the 1,500 and finished almost two minutes behind the Qatari in last place at 4 minutes, 47.75 seconds.

Jimenez, also a national marathon champion, will open her campaign on Monday.

The Asian Athletics Association (AAA) officially welcomed East Timor as its 45th member at its congress on Friday.

East Timor became the 211th member of the International Athletics Amateur Association (IAAF) last month and the 11th member of the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG).

``It's our great honor to participate here,' said Alfranio Xavier Amaral, president of East Timor Athletics Federation. ``It's a new chapter in the sports history of Asia and also of our country's sports development.

``Being a new republic, it's part of our commitment to participate in international sports events, hoping to give our athletes the best exposure against seasoned athletes of Asia.'

Rique Amaral, vice president of East Timor Olympic Committee, said local officials had identified a pool of 100 athletes and were preparing a squad for the Southeast Asian Games at Vietnam in December.

Maurice Nicholas, honorary secretary general of AAA, said East Timor was poised to strengthen as a regional player because 60 percent of its population was under 16 years of age and the nation was intent on sports development.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sent a message to open the championships, urging Asian athletes, officials and leaders to embrace world peace through sports.

Arroyo gave a special greeting to the athletes from East Timor, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian delegation, which were among the 43 nations competing in Manila.

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