Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, a Kenyan-born Israeli citizen, won a hard-fought 10,000-meter race in Berlin taking home Israel’s first ever track gold in a men’s or women’s event at the European Athletics Championships, The Times of Israel reported Thursday.
Salpeter finished in 31 minutes, 43.29 seconds – nine seconds ahead of silver medalist Susan Krumins of the Netherlands. Sweden’s Meraf Bahta came third.
The athlete won the Tel Aviv Marathon in 2016, and competed in the Rio Olympics as part of Israel’s largest delegation. No other Israeli women achieved the necessary time. She fell short of a medal, however, because of ongoing medical reasons.
“I still don’t believe it,” she said after the race in Berlin. “I’m really happy. I dreamed of this, but I didn’t believe it happened.” Salpeter will receive a grant of $11,000 (NIS 40,000) from Israeli sports authorities for her achievement.
The athlete had been chasing gold for her adopted home country since moving to Israel in 2009, originally as a nanny for the children of Kenya’s ambassador to Israel. She later met coach Dan Salpeter, and the two were eventually married. In 2016 she received Israeli citizenship.
Kenya’s ambassador to Israel, Augostino Njoroge, assisted her with her citizenship bid. He told Israeli television at the time that Kenya has plenty of marathon runners and was happy to have Salpeter run for Israel. “Kenya and Israel are so good friends. We cannot hand you the medal, but we can give you somebody who can bring the medal,” said Njoroge. “This is what good friends are there for.”
After the race on Thursday, Salpeter draped herself in a large Israeli flag, and later stood on the medals podium singing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah. “This is really an honor to my country, an honor to my family and an honor for myself for the work that I’m doing,” an emotional Salpeter said.
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