Two Ethiopian runners who participated in last week’s Jerusalem marathon began the race but disappeared before reaching the finish line, Israeli police said Wednesday. Their whereabouts are currently unknown.
The two, women in their 20s, came to Israel to participate in Friday’s marathon along with a contingent of professional runners from Ethiopia and other African nations. They left their passports and personal effects with organizers before the race and set off with the other competitors, but did not complete the marathon and have not been seen since, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Times of Israel.
He said police were looking for them in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and were considering various reasons for the disappearance. But it seemed likely the two runners used the sporting event as an opportunity to flee poverty in their home country and to stay in Israel, home to a large community of African migrants.
Around 20,000 people took part in different events held on the day of the marathon, including 1,750 foreigners who flew in to compete. Among the marathon runners, the fastest man and woman were both runners from Ethiopia – Abraham Kabeto Katale, who set a record for the course, and Mihiret Anotonius.
It is not unheard of for athletes to take advantage of sporting events to flee their home countries. During last year’s Olympics in London, seven members of the Cameroon team were reported to have vanished.