JERUSALEM: An Israeli runner who shocked viewers at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin when she thought the race was over and pulled up a lap early said on Monday she hoped to learn from her mistake despite the disappointment.
Lonah Chemtai Salpeter thought she had won silver in the 5,000 metres on Sunday night in Berlin and stopped running with one more lap to go.
Salpeter said in a video interview with Israeli news site Ynet on Monday that she was disappointed, “but it happened … and I have to be smart next time”.
“What can I do? I cannot bring it back,” she said.
Salpeter said she would now focus on next year’s World Athletics Championships in Doha. “I feel good … I need to focus for my future.”
A medal on Sunday would have been her second at the championships after her gold in the 10,000 metres last Wednesday.
It was Israel’s first-ever female gold at the European Championships and led to wide praise for the 29-year-old Kenya-born athlete.
Seconds after realising her mistake, she covered her face with her hands and began running again.
But she had expended too much energy on what she thought was the last lap and fallen too far behind after stopping.
Her effort to get back in the race would have been in vain anyway. It turned out that she would later be disqualified for having crossed lanes too soon in the race.
But viewers and television announcers were not yet aware of that and were stunned when Salpeter stopped.
One Israeli commentator said: “What is happening? Why is she stopping? I don’t understand.”
On one broadcast abroad, an Irish commentator said, “Keep going! Keep going!”
If not for the disqualification, Salpeter would have finished fourth. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands took gold.
After the race really ended, she stepped to the side of the track and fell to the ground, burying her face in the infield grass.
The head of Israel’s Athletics Association, Ami Baran, told Ynet that the mistake must be kept in proportion.
“We can’t forget that Lonah has not been a high-level athlete for very long,” he said. “She fell, but she knows how to pick herself up.”
There have been expressions of support for her in Israel.
On Sunday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted a photo of her holding the Israeli flag.
“You are a real star! You have brought great honour to our country,” he posted.
On Monday, Israeli newspapers were filled with shock over the error.
Top-selling paper Yediot Aharonot published a full-page photo of Salpeter lying face down in the grass, with the headline: “She finished in tears.”
Others carried similar photos and headlines.
Salpeter first came to Israel in 2008 to work as a nanny for a Kenyan diplomat, Israeli media reported.
She was a runner and was introduced to Israeli coach Dan Salpeter, according to the Times of Israel news site.
They later married and have a son, but she faced a struggle in receiving Israeli citizenship. She was granted it after winning the 2016 Tel Aviv Marathon, the site said.
She competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for Israel but did not win a medal.