For United States Army water treatment specialist and 5,000 meter track dynamo Paul Chelimo, Saturday, for a time, was a nightmare. The medal he had secured with his daring run in the grueling distance race at the final in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, was stripped, himself disqualified for a trippy moment in the beginning of the event. He learned this, much to his and America’s dismay, during this interview on live television:
Excuse us for this corny tie-in, but the saga wasn’t over. For there would be a silver lining for the American soldier — justice would be righted, and honor would be restored in the tumultuous South American country, at least this time.
From the Washington Post:
“That was the first time I realized I was disqualified. I didn’t know. Just getting the news from the television that I was disqualified, that was the most heartbreaking thing in my life. It’s really something. I couldn’t even wrap it up in my mind.”
Immediately, USA Track and Field appealed for reinstatement. It would mean 41-year-old Bernard Lagat, who had jumped to third from fifth after two medalists were disqualified, would lose the bronze he had suddenly won. Chelimo waited for 20 minutes until finally the IAAF reinstated him.
“That was the longest wait of my life,” Chelimo said. “I’ve been working out for this. It’s been sweat, blood and tears. What went down behind the scenes in practice, this was just icing on the cake. … I just can’t express myself right now. I’m happy. It’s all about hard work. They didn’t take my 13:03 personal best. I really wanted that 13:03. It shows I’m in the top level right now.”
Chelimo is a member of the military’s World Class Athlete Program, an arrangement that allows him to serve while also receiving ample time and resources to train for the Olympics. Born in Kenya, the elite runner first came to America in 2010 to go to school.
In his post race comments, the soldier credited the U.S. Army for showing him how not to cower away from what he laid out as collusion between Great Britain’s Mo Farrah and Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet to block him from passing them on the track.
“They were working as a team,” he said. “They kept blocking me, because I think he knew I was a factor.”
” … it wasn’t like an easy race [where] you could just sit there and expect to medal without fighting … Thank God they didn’t take my silver medal, because I worked out for all my soldiers. We work out together every day. I represent them, and they represent me.”
Safe to say Chelimo represented America with the heart and dogged determination every red, white and blue citizen is proud of. He fought for what the earned and — in the end — he’s wearing a silver medal, for himself and the entire US of A.