Pushing 50 and Going for Gold

But most runners don't have to support a family of seven. Still, he's better off than many other Ethiopian Jews living in Israel.

Satayin was airlifted here in a covert Israeli operation to rescue Ethiopian Jews from the turmoil and violence of war- and famine-stricken Ethiopia in 1990. It was called Operation Solomon, and in the span of 36 hours Israeli officials stuffed 747s and C-130 cargo planes with 14,500 of their slight-boned co-religionists.

Israel even notched a dubious record for single-flight passenger load: It crammed more than 1,100 people on a single 747.

That helter-skelter flight from Ethiopia is one of the reasons for the mix-up over Satayin's age.

When he landed in Israel, and the Israeli immigration authorities began processing the thousands of Jewish refugees they asked his date of birth. He answered truthfully: 1954. Yet he had neglected to mention that the date was calculated according to the Ethiopian calendar, which is seven years behind the Gregorian calendar.

His Israeli identification and passport still list him as being in his mid-50s.

Today the Ethiopian community here is mired in poverty, soaring drug use and the highest high-school drop-out rate of any group in Israel.

In Satayin's home, Skittel says Israel missed out on a great opportunity by not tapping into the Ethiopian community's God-given talent for long-distance running.

Satayin's dream is to quit running and start a federation of Israeli-Ethiopian runners, to get kids off the streets and onto the track.

First, though, he plans to keep training, to beat at least some of his young rivals at the Beijing Olympics.

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