Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter became the first Israeli woman ever to win a gold medal in any discipline at a European Athletics Championships when she won the 10,000m tonight in dominant fashion on a hot and sticky evening at Olympic Stadium here.
Salpeter, 29, who switched her allegiance from Kenya to Israel in March, 2016, controlled the pace from gun to tape and clocked 31:43.28, a comfortable nine seconds ahead of the Netherlands’s Susan Krumins (31:52.55). Sweden’s Meraf Bahta was a distant third in 32:19.34.
Salpeter was overwhelmed with joy and national pride as she strode into the mixed zone and received a tight embrace from her husband and coach, Dan Salpeter, who then playfully dumped ice cubes over her head.
“It means a lot,” Salpeter told Race Results Weekly when asked what this gold medal meant to her. “It is an honor to my country.”
Salpeter made effective use of a fartlek strategy to defeat the other 25 women she faced tonight on the stadium’s blue oval. Running the early laps with Turkey’s Yasemin Can, the defending champion, and Romania’s Ancuta Bobocel, Salpeter allowed the pace to vary from an honest 74.6 seconds for the opening lap, to a slow 80 seconds for the next two. She had an idea that varying the pace might tire her opponents.
“I say, maybe I will play a little bit game,” Salpeter said. “It was my tactic.”
After the 4000m mark, Salpeter dropped a 69.9-second lap, to break open the race. Only Can was able to cover that move, leaving Bobocel behind with Bahta and Krumins. It looked like the two former Kenyans would run away with the race, but on the next lap the duo slowed to 77 seconds providing Krumins and Bahta a chance to catch up. Through 5000m (15:52.13) Can was with Salpeter in front with small gap on Krumins and Bahta. Bobocel was too far behind to contend for a medal and eventually dropped out.
In the second half of the race, Salpeter kept her pace in the 75 to 76-second range lap after lap. Krumins did her best to stay close, and got within three seconds at 8400m, but eventually the Dutchwoman began to wilt in the heat.
“I was worried at one point I was not going to get to the finish line because I could not pick up my feet,” the 2009 NCAA 1500m champion for Florida State told Race Results Weekly. Determined to keep going she said she told herself, “That medal is mine.”
For good measure, Salpeter ran her final lap in 72.6 seconds to put the race away. Krumins, her body pitched forward with fatigue in the final 50 meters, willed herself to the finish before collapsing to the track.
“Never,” Krumins said when asked if she had ever worked so hard to finish a race.
Behind the gold and silver medalists, Bahta had moved into third before the 9000m mark and had a comfortable lead over fourth place Alina Reh of Germany (Can would finish fifth). Nonetheless, Bahta sprinted the final 50 meters because a lapped athlete, Olena Serdyuk of Ukraine, sprinted against the Swede mistakenly thinking she was running her final lap. Serdyuk shows in the official results as a “DNF” with a 24th lap time of 32:19.62, less than half a second different from Bahta’s.
“Despite being disappointed that I didn’t have a strong race from the start, I’m still very happy with my result,” Bahta told European Athletics interviewers. “It’s a medal after all.”