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Paul Chelimo Never Gives Up: 5K Bronze Is High Note In “Tough Year”

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 06, 2021, 1 p.m. (ET)

Bronze medalist Paul Chelimo stands on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men's 5000m final at the Tokyo Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. 

 

TOKYO — With three laps to go in the men’s 5,000-meter final Friday at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Paul Chelimo was pretty sure he had it in the bag. Then Joshua Cheptegei showed up, and the Ugandan was “cranking, cranking, cranking, cranking, cranking.”

Ok, one guy. That’s not too bad.

Then, “all of a sudden Mohammed shows up,” Chelimo recalled, referring to the Canadian runner Mohammed Ahmed. “I’m like no way. I’m just going to keep pushing all the way.”

And then?

“All of a sudden Kimeli is trying to go for it.”

It was then, with Kenya’s Nicholas Kipkorir Kimeli matching him stride for stride down the final straight, that Chelimo finally had enough. 

“I’m a veteran,” he said. “Don’t count a veteran out.”

With 30 meters to go and Kimeli inching into the lead, it was Chelimo who kept his legs churning until the very last moment, outlasting his rival by .44 of a second before diving across the finish line for a bronze medal.

“Paul Chelimo is the name, running is the game,” he said with his trademark smirk, “so I’m always going to show up, always going to medal. Don’t count me out. That’s just me.”

Running 12 minutes, 59.05 seconds, his fastest time in nearly three years — and more than 25 seconds better than his winning time at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in June — Chelimo reached the podium for the second consecutive Olympics, following a silver medal five years ago in Rio.

His result was a highlight on a busy penultimate night of track and field at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, overshadowed only by the ageless Allyson Felix winning a bronze medal in the women’s 400-meter. The 35-year-old Felix, who is competing in her fifth Olympics, is now the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field with 10 medals. The U.S. women’s 4x100-meter team also earned a silver medal.

Some athletes at the Olympic level insist the competition is within. Control what you can control, they say, and let the results fall as they may. Chelimo isn’t here simply to do his best.

Born in Iten, Kenya, Chelimo came to the United States to attend college, first at Shorter College, a historically Black two-year school in Arkansas, and later at UNC-Greensboro. In 2014, he gained U.S. citizenship when he joined the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.

“The United States has made me who I am today, and I don’t take it for granted,” he said. “And that’s why when I go out there I bring out the medals every year.”

The 30-year-old, who now lives in Beaverton, Oregon, has won six U.S. titles — three indoor, three outdoor — and added a bronze medal at the 2017 world championships.

“I’ve always wanted to be back to back to back medaling at every championships,” he said.

His attempt to extend that streak to three fell short when he finished seventh at the 2019 world championships. Tonight, the streak began anew.

This medal was especially meaningful, Chelimo said, after what he described as a “tough year.” He dedicated it to his brother, Alberto, who died unexpectedly in March.

“I didn’t expect to lose my brother this year, but things happen,” Chelimo said. “And it’s been tough coming out here and getting any medal, so (to be a) double Olympic medalist? You don’t get anything better than that.”

Racing in another humid night in Tokyo, Cheptegei took the gold with a time of 12:58.15, while Ahmed finished in 12:58.61. Cheptegei also won a silver medal in the 10K last week. The other two U.S. runners, first-time Olympians Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid, finished ninth and 14th.

Had the pace gone out a little slower, Chelimo is confident he could have won the gold medal. At the same time, breaking the 13-minute mark for the first time since August 2018 gives him confidence that his new medal streak will soon be growing again.

“I’m coming back, 2024,” he said. “2028, LA, home ground. I’m not done yet.”

Javelin Medal Is Out Of Reach For American Record Holder Maggie Malone

Maggie Malone was ready. The javelin thrower had set two American record throws this year, the second one coming just three weeks ago. Only two women had thrown farther in 2021. So the 27-year-old came to the Olympic Stadium tonight expecting to be leaving with a medal around her neck.

Instead, Malone came out tense and ended up 10th, her best mark of 59.82 meters (196 feet, 3 inches) being more than 7.5 meters shy of her personal best.

“My goal was to be on the podium,” she said, fighting through tears. “I really did think that I could be there.”

Originally from Geneva, Nebraska, Malone set a new American record in May, then extended it in July to its current 67.40. During the Olympic qualifying round earlier this week, she threw 63.07, and coming into the final she believed she had a 70-meter throw in her.

“I’m so frustrated,” she said. “It;s really not how I thought it was going to be.”

China’s Liu Shiying won the gold medal with a throw of 66.34, followed by Poland’s Maria Andrejczyk (64.61) and Australia's Kelsey-Lee Barber (64.56).

If there was one consolation for Malone, it’s that she made a big jump from her Olympic debut in 2016, when she threw 56.47 and failed to get out of qualifying. That just means there’s more work to do.

“I can absolutely be on the podium in 2024,” she said.

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.

 

Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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