The Best Falls in Running History
Some stumbles are legendary
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In late March, Geoffrey Kamworor won the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, Wales. Working with fellow Kenyan Bedan Karoki, Kamworor pushed the pace early to break British superstar Mo Farah and eventually crossed the line in a fast 59:10. It was a windy, raining day, leading some to speculate that, had the conditions been better, the 23-year-old Kamworor could have had a shot at the world record (which currently stands at 58:23.) Though his feat is impressive enough as it is, Kamworor deserves additional credit for winning after he fell hard at the start of the race and had to weave through a dense crowd of amateur runners to get to the lead pack.
In honor of Kamworor’s “get-up-and-go” mentality, here are a few of the more memorable falls in running over the years.
What’s more impressive than falling, getting up, and nearly setting a world record? Well . . .
In 1972, competing in his first Olympics, 23-year-old Finnish policeman Lasse Viren hit the ground hard in the men’s 10,000-meter final in Munich. Great Britain’s David Bedford took the race out fast from the gun and was still leading just before the halfway point when Viren, running in fifth, was clipped from behind and fell off the track. Rather than sulk, dejected, about how his race was ruined, Viren quickly got up and rejoined the lead pack on the same lap. A 56-second final 400 meters was enough to hold off Belgian Emiel Puttemans and give Viren the first of the four Olympic gold medals he would win during his career. And, yes, his time of 27:38.35 was a world record.
Hicham El Guerrouj
The greatest miler/1500-meter runner in history is Hicham El Guerrouj. The retired Moroccan middle-distance runner currently holds the world record in both events–marks that have stood for over 16 years and counting. But even the career of “the King of the Mile” was marked by a famous fall early on, which took him years to fully redeem. At the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games, Guerrouj was one of the favorites for gold, despite being only 21 at the time. In the 1500-meter final, he’d positioned himself perfectly on the shoulder of Algerian Noureddine Morceli with just over a lap to go, when suddenly he went down, was passed by the entire field, and finished dead last. By the 2000 Olympics, El Guerrouj was considered virtually unbeatable in the 1500, having only lost once in the previous four years. Alas, this aura of invincibility proved fallacious when Guerrouj was outkicked by Kenyan Noah Ngeny to finish second in one of the great upsets in Olympic track and field history. In Athens, in 2004, it seemed that El Guerrouj might be outkicked again, this time by Bernard Lagat, but the Moroccan fought all the way to the line, winning by one tenth of a second. The curse was broken. Eight years after Atlanta, Guerrouj fell to the track again, this time shedding tears of joy.
At last summer’s IAAF Diamond League meet in Paris, American steeplechaser Evan Jager was 100 meters away from becoming only the second non-Kenyan to win a Diamond League men’s steeplechase race. With less than a quarter of a lap to go, Jager was well ahead of second-placed Jairus Birech, when he barely clipped the final hurdle, causing his legs to buckle upon landing. He got back up and pushed hard to the line, but Birech had already stormed past him to claim the victory. Jager was crushed, less about finishing second, than that he had just run 8:00.45-thereby just missing the magical 8-minute barrier. His quick recovery was good enough to help Jager break his own American by over four seconds however, as his gutsy performance was named the “Moment of the Year” for the 2015 IAAF Diamond League season.
It’s one thing to fall and recover in a distance race, but quite another to do so in a short middle-distance event. During the 2008 Big 10 indoor track championships, Heather Dorniden was representing the University of Minnesota in the women’s 600-meters–three laps around an indoor track. She was the favorite going into the race, but just as she was heading hit the bell lap (i.e. 200-meters to go) Dorniden tripped and fell face first on the track. What happened next caused the footage of the race to go viral. Watch and you’ll see why.