Israeli runner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter finished the women’s marathon at the Tokyo Olympics Saturday in 66th place after dropping from the third spot in the final stretch of the 26-mile (42.195-kilometer) race.
Chemtai Salpeter had consistently been at the front of the lead group of runners in the race, held in blistering Tokyo heat that caused many top runners to quit in the final kilometers. As she neared the final stretch, Israeli watchers had begun hoping she would bring Israel its first Olympic athletics medal.
But Chemtai Salpeter suddenly stopped running four kilometers from the end of the race, while in the third spot. She was thought to have dropped out, but then rallied to finish the race at 66th place, some 21 minutes after the winner, before collapsing from exhaustion.
There were 88 runners entered in the field, with more than a dozen recording a did not finish due to the extreme heat. That included world champion Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya.
But Chemtai Salpeter later told Israel’s Sports 5 Channel that it was not the heat that ended her effort but stomach pains.
“I started to feel some problem in my stomach and my low abdomen, so this is what limited me,” she said, without giving details. “The problem was not the heat. It was only my problem… Only the stomach was the problem.”
She said that after resting for 20 minutes she was able to resume running to finish the race.
“I [said] I will never give up so I need to cross the finish line. I tried my best,” she said.
“I was really proud to represent Israel…I was [prepared] to fight for any medal. I apologize,” she said, before breaking down in tears and ending the interview.
Peres Jepchirchir led a 1-2 Kenyan finish in the marathon, withstanding the heat and humidity while running through the streets of Sapporo. Jepchirchir finished in a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, 20 seconds. Her teammate Brigid Kosgei was second and American Molly Seidel, a relative newcomer to the marathon stage, took home the bronze.
Second Israeli runner Maor Tiyouri came in 48th, at 2 hours, 37 minutes, 52 seconds. Salpeter’s final time was 2 hours, 48 minutes, 31 seconds.
The race that was moved to Sapporo to avoid the extreme heat in Tokyo found little relief on a winding course through the city. The starter’s gun went off a minute after 6 a.m. local time under sunny skies and with a temperature reading of 25°C (77°F). It climbed to nearly 30°C (86°F) near the finish, with a humidity of around 65%.
The runners tried to stay cool any way possible. Aleksandra Liswoska of Poland grabbed an entire bag filled with water at one stop, quickly drinking one and then pouring another over her head. Andrea Deelstra of the Netherlands had a bag of ice perched on top of her head.
Seidel pretty much forecasted this day since she was a kid. On Instagram, she wrote: “Other kids wanted to be astronauts or firefighters; I wanted to be a runner. Even on the hardest days I try to remember how blessed I am to do the thing my 10-yr-old self only dreamed about.”
She screamed when she crossed the finish line and said “Hi, mom and dad,” into the camera.
Born in Kenya, Salpeter moved to Israel in 2011 and fought for citizenship for years. She eventually received Israeli citizenship in March of 2016 after winning the Tel Aviv marathon, allowing her to compete for Israel in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, shortly after the birth of her son, Roy.
She failed to complete the marathon in those games, however, after suffering sharp pains in her chest, likely due to breastmilk she was carrying.
In March 2020 Salpeter was the first woman to cross the finish line at a Tokyo marathon.
Salpeter finished that race in 2 hours 17 minutes and 45 seconds, setting a new women’s record for the course. The score was the eighth-best of all time in women’s marathon.
On Monday Israeli runner Selamawit Dagnachew Teferi finished 10th in the finals of the 5000m women’s race.
With a result of 14:54.39, Teferi came 10th out of 15 competitors in the finals. In the qualifying race last Friday, Teferi set a new national Israeli record with a finishing time of 14:53.43.