Top Israeli runner Chemtai Salpeter collapses in world championship marathon
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Top Israeli runner Chemtai Salpeter collapses in world championship marathon

Athlete succumbs to extreme heat while in 5th place in competition in Qatar, hurting her chances of qualifying for 2020 Olympics

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Israeli runner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter competes in the women's marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, September 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Israeli runner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter competes in the women's marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, September 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Israeli runner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, one of the country’s leading athletes, collapsed Saturday during a marathon in the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, failing to finish the race.

Chemtai Salpeter had been considered one of the frontrunners in the race, but dropped out at around 32 kilometers (20 miles) while she was in fifth place due to excessive heat.

She was receiving medical treatment and in recovery.

Out of the 68 runners who participated in the race, 23 failed to finish, according to the International Association of Athletics Federations, which presided over the event.

Athletes run during the women’s marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, September 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

On Friday, the organization told entrants that the race would be held as planned despite heat of 30-32.7 °C (86-91 °F) and humidity of 73 percent. The letter to the runners said that medical personnel were preparing for the harsh conditions. The marathon and other endurance events were being held late at night to minimize exposure to heat.

Salpeter was pushing to close a gap with the leading pack around the halfway mark of the race before she collapsed, and had closed her time difference with the leading five runners from one minute to 11 seconds.

Earlier this month, Salpeter broke a European record for the women’s 10K, finishing a race in the Netherlands in 30 minutes and 4 seconds.

The top 10 finishers in Saturday’s marathon qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Those who failed to qualify in Doha will need to achieve the qualifying time of 2 hours, 29 minutes, 30 seconds in a later race.

Ruth Chepngetich, right, and Visiline Jepkesho, second from right, both of Kenya, run during the women’s marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, September 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Last year, Chemtai won the Florence Marathon, crossing the finishing line in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 17 seconds, setting an Israeli record.

Chemtai already held the Israeli records for 1,500, 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 meters, and the half marathon.

Born in Kenya, Chemtai 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.

Related: The mom who beat the odds, and the bureaucrats, to become Israel’s top runner

In the London World Championship Marathon in 2017, she took 41st place with a time of two hours, forty minutes.

In the 2018 European Athletics Championships in Berlin, she took gold in the 10,000-meter race, finishing a full nine seconds before the second-place runner and becoming the first Israeli athlete to win a gold medal at the championships.

Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter celebrates winning the women’s 10,000 meter final race at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany, August 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

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 Salpeter returned to Kenya, where the couple decided to marry in hopes of later moving to Israel.

The competition in Qatar runs from September 27 to October 6.

Aside from the Israeli squad competing in Doha, two asylum seekers from  Israel are competing as refugees in hopes of earning a spot on the Refugee Olympic Team in Tokyo.

Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich won the women’s marathon with a time of 2 hours, 32 minutes, 43 seconds.

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