RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Saturday evening wasn’t for the faint of heart as the roller coaster ride for UNCG athletics was in full force but at the end of the night, former UNCG standout Paul Chelimo became the first medal winner for the United States of America in the 5,000-meter race since 1964 as he claimed the silver medal in a personal-best time of 13:03.90. Chelimo finished just 0.60 seconds behind gold medalist Mo Farrah who repeated as Olympic champion with a time of 13:03.30.
“This is the best feeling ever,” Chelimo told the Associated Press. “Now I am really happy. It’s the best, best feeling ever.”
The night wasn’t as easy as that quote would make it seem though as it was filled with drama throughout the evening. During the race, Chelimo once again ran near the front throughout, remaining in the top five the entire race just like during his preliminary race Wednesday. He entered the final lap outside of the medal standings but had a huge push at the end to move into second and just behind Farrah’s pace to claim the first-ever medal in UNCG athletic history as the first-ever Olympian in the school’s histry.
Chelimo took the customary victory lap around the track with Farrah and bronze medalist Hagos Gebrhiwet of Ethiopia. Upon his finish, he was told he was one of three runners disqualified during the race for stepping to the inside of the first lane and was stripped of his second-place finish and the silver medal.
In an agonizing hour wait, the International Association of Athletics Federation granted his appeal and reinstated him into the silver medal position, the first for the US in the event since 1964.
“There’s no words for me to describe my happiness for Paul,” UNCG head coach Chad Pearson told the Greensboro News & Record. “I know he is going to enjoy this for the rest of his life. There’s nothing else you can say for the guy. He’s Paul. If you know Paul, you know that he is going to do special things. That is exactly what he did tonight. He made us all proud. I’m just glad that he can have this moment and have it for the rest of his life.”
Chelimo’s time of 13:03.90 smashed his personal-best time of 13:19.54, set just Wednesday in the preliminaries when he was the top qualifier. The 2014 UNCG graduate in public health has picked the best time to turn in back-to-back personal-bests in the 3.1-mile race. He is a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program and currently resides in Beaverton, Oregon.
“It was really tactical race and they (the Ethiopians) kept pushing me because they were working as a team,” Chelimo said. “It’s never easy to run a race and run against a team, but the Army has taught me to be mentally and physically tough.”