Army Spc. Paul Chelimo competed in the 5,000-meter race in the Rio Olympics on Saturday, crossing the finish line in second place. But officials told him during a post-race interview that he had been disqualified and lost his medal.
Then, he got it back.
Chelimo was recruited into the Army’s World Class Athlete Program out of the University of North Carolina. He serves as a water treatment specialist but is allowed to spend a lot of his time training to represent the U.S. and the Army in high-profile athletic competitions.
On Saturday, he ran in the Olympic men’s 5,000-meter race and posted a strong second-place finish, giving America its first medal in that event since Bob Schul took gold and Bill Dellinger took bronze in the 1964 games in Tokyo.
But, an official review of the race showed that Chelimo had stepped just out of bounds at one point while he attempted to avoid a tight group of athletes who were pushing each other. When his misstep was discovered, Chelimo was disqualified and stripped of his finish.
“I want to appeal that my intention was not to impede anyone,” Chelimo told NBC when he learned of the disqualification from an interviewer.
“I was trying to get to the outside,” he said. “I was trying to save myself from all of the pushing.”
The U.S. track officials protested the decision. The judges are allowed to use their discretion on whether an athlete stepping out of bounds was on purpose or not and whether it provided a competitive advantage.
In Chelimo’s case, the judges found during the review that the soldier had likely stepped out of bounds on accident and that he would have placed second either way. Chelimo had beaten the bronze medalist by nearly a half-second, 13:03.90 against Hagos Gebrhiwet of Ethiopia’s 13:04.35. That is much more than any advantage he might have gained.
It also represents Chelimo’s personal record in the 5,000-meter event.
So, Chelimo was given his 2nd place finish back and allowed to keep his silver medal. He joins Army 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks as an Army medalist in Rio. Kendricks won the bronze in the men’s pole vault.