Disaster struck an Israeli athlete Sunday when she stopped running a lap too early in a European Athletics Championship race, a mistake that prevented her bringing home an almost certain second medal from the games.
Lonah Chemtai Salpeter was competing in the women’s 5,000-meter race and hoping to follow-up on her success from last week when she won a gold medal in the 10,000-meter event in Berlin, Germany.
Salpeter was in close second place just behind Sifan Hassan from The Netherlands as they finished the penultimate lap. As the runners crossed the line Salpeter pulled up and veered off course, apparently thinking she had just crossed the finish line to bag a silver medal.
As race officials rang the bell, indicating the start of the final lap, Salpeter realized her error and sprinted off in a bold attempt to catch the leaders.
'Oh my word!' Salpeter pulls up thinking the race is over as the bell goes… unbelievable! pic.twitter.com/hJUmMDlWqJ
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) August 12, 2018
The gap, however, proved too large to close and she finished in fourth place, in a time of 15:01. Despite her catastrophic pause, the time was a new Israeli record.
As she crossed the finish line, the frustrated Salpeter collapsed to the track in tears.
Hassan went on to win the race, with Britain’s Eilish McColgan winning silver and Yasemin Can taking bronze for Turkey.
Despite her misfortune, she still won praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Lonah Chemtai, you are a true star! You have brought great honor to our country,” he tweeted after the race.
On Thursday Kenyan-born Salpeter won the 10,000-meter race. Her victory marked the first time that Israel took a gold medal at the championships. It also marked a personal victory for the 29-year-old runner who has fought a difficult battle to represent Israel.
Born in Kenya, she moved to Israel in 2011 and had been fighting for citizenship for years.
She originally came to Israel in 2008, as a nanny for a diplomat at the Kenyan embassy. A keen runner, she was introduced to Israeli coach Dan Salpeter, and the two fell in love.
When her stint working for the Kenyan diplomat was up, Chemtai returned to Kenya, where the couple decided to marry in hopes of later moving to Israel. They now have a young son.
Her application for basic residency status was rejected several times. And it was only after she won the Tel Aviv Marathon in February 2016, and breaking the qualification time for the Olympics, that she received nationality documents freeing her up to compete for Israel in Rio De Janeiro. She failed to win a medal there, hampered by a shoulder injury.