Paul Chelimo Speaks: On His Pre-Tokyo Medal Guarantee, Almost Coming to Blows With Nicholas Kimeli, and the LetsRun Messageboard

September 3, 2021

Seven American distance runners earned medals at the 2016 Olympics.

Five American distance runners earned medals at the 2020 Olympics.

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But only one American distance runner medalled at both Olympics — 5,000m specialist Paul Chelimo, who joined us on this week’s Track Talk podcast (click here to listen on your favorite podcast app. Paul starts at the 80:37 mark)

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Getting back on the podium was not an easy task for Paul. After his silver in Rio, he got a bronze at the 2017 Worlds, but then faded to 7th at the 2019 Worlds. Paul vowed he’d be back on the medal stand in 2020, and attributed some of the drop in form to becoming a dad in at the end of 2018, and getting less sleep with the birth of his daughter Arianna. COVID delayed the 2020 Games, and then this year Paul had to deal with the death of his younger brother Albert, but when it mattered most in Tokyo, he was back on the podium.

In addition to running well on the biggest stage, Paul is known for his aggressive racing (he dove at the line in Tokyo with 4th placer Nicholas Kimeli saying he should be DQ’d, he finished in lane 4 at the Olympic Trials, and was DQ’d from the 2017 Diamond League final) and his willingness to speak his mind and create rivalries.

We’ve got highlights of our talk with Paul below. Paul didn’t hold back, and in addition to talking about his Tokyo success, he talked about his big rivalry with Kenyan Nicholas Kimeli, whom he called a “sore loser, “and gave his thoughts of the lack of Kenyan success on the track of late and even Edward Cheserek.

Paul will not be running the Diamond League final in Zurich next week (the final is not on a regular sized track and won’t count for record purposes), but will be running the Fifth Avenue Mile, the Sugar Run 5K in Memphis, and the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5K the day before the NYC Marathon.

On getting the bronze in Tokyo: 

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“Honestly going in, I wasn’t among the favorites….My PB was just from 2018, there was some people who expected me to be tough, but you know with the PBs sometimes people get fooled… A championship is a championship… and I feel like I was built more for the championship than any other type of race. You can put me in a 12:30 race today, trust me, I won’t be top three, but you can put me in a championship race, they run 12:30, I’m going to be top three. So, I just know when to peak.

“The game is changing and everyone is running like 12:40s…I have massive respect for [Joshua Cheptegei]. I really was looking forward to be second at worst, to be second to Joshua because losing to Joshua man, that’s a world record holder. It’s kind of like his time [at the top].”

Paul guaranteed to Joshua Cheptegei before the race he’d be on the medal stand:

“You know, it just kills me when, when these people are always talking like negative and always talking crap. So that really pisses me off, but that motivates me though… Sometimes people think like, ‘Ah, this guy’s just talking. It’s just talk.’ Funny part is, I was sitting with Joshua at the cafeteria, Joshua and Nicholas Kimeli and I was talking to Joshua before the finals, the day before the finals, I was like… ‘I don’t know what you guys can do. I don’t know what will happen, but just know I’m going home with the medal. That’s it. You guys decide which one you want to take, but I’m just going on with one medal. If it’s gold. It’s all right. I’ll be happy. Any medal is mine.’

“I told Joshua, just like a joke, ‘we have to get to agreement, like one Ugandan has to go home without a medal…you have to decide if it’s you or Kiplimo…’

“I knew pretty much there was going to be one random guy that will show up [and get a medal]. There’s going to be one guy and it happened, it was Moh Ahmed. I knew that apart from me and one Ugandan there was going to be one person [on the medal stand]… That’s what ended up happening.”

On being in the best shape of his life before Tokyo:

“Heading into Tokyo, I was in the best shape of my life. It’s just that [the Olympics] it’s a different type of racing. Championship is different than a time trial. So running 12:50s in a championship, it’s a way, way different game because I feel 12:59 or 12:58 in a Diamond League, it would feel a bit more easier than the championship.

“The pace wasn’t consistent [in Tokyo]. At some point, like towards the end, Kimeli started cranking the pace and then all of a sudden Joshua comes and he keeps like cranking the pace like crazy. Joshua started kicking like 600 out or 500 out.

“That was the tough, tough part, you know because he has more strength. So I think that’s what he wanted to do. And honestly, it’s a different type of game.”

On starting a YouTube channel this fall:

“I’m trying to get more people supporting me, get more people behind me. I’m starting a YouTube channel. The channel will be like, showing all my training, everything all the way to like Eugene, Oregon. So that’s, so that’s my plan because we need more of that to get people into track and field.

“That will be like so important, especially for upcoming athletes, because…. these people are really, really interested. Those in high school, middle school, they are so interested in this type of thing.

“They can see what they need to be on the train as a top level.”

What is behind the lack of recent Kenyan male success on the track:

“A lot of Kenyans are moving the roads and, uh, honestly, trust me, I’ve been to Kenya and the the big part about it is, and it really breaks my heart it’s just the [lack of] support man.

“People out there, like they just been given a job and they’re sleeping on it. They don’t try to help the athletes through every way. They instead, they just try to, you know, like a vulture. They just try to make money through every means, even if they can take an athlete’s money. It’s fine. That’s the big problem right now in track and field in Kenya…

“I’ll give you a good example. I went to Kenya to give my brother a final rest (burial this spring). Around that same time Kipchoge Keino Stadium [in Eldoret] was being renovated and trust me, there was, there was nowhere to train, like no stadiums to train.

“So think about it. The Olympics was coming up in six months or five months — actually, it was four months out. The whole country, especially Eldoret, Iten, they don’t have any stadium, any track that they can train. That’s just people sleeping in that job…

“The government is just failing on its own and that’s one of the things that makes me really appreciate more being in the US because I look right, I have a stadium. I look left, I have a track out there. I look in front of me, there’s a track behind me. There’s a track. I don’t have to worry about places that I can train.

“And that’s why I don’t like complaining because I know I have the best support. As long as I got the track, I got spikes. That’s it. That’s all I need. That’s all I need for now.”

On Edward Cheserek’s lack of success as a pro:

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“Edward Cheserek — it’s just tough to be in his shoes because man, this is someone, think about it, this is someone that has 17 NCAA titles. In the meantime, I have zero NCAA titles. That’s just crazy to think about, he not being competitive at the professional level.

“But, uh, honestly I feel like it’s all about the coaching. The difference between me and Ed was I didn’t do a lot of crazy, crazy training in college because there was times that I would just be like arguing with my coach because like the training was too easy.”

On sticking with the 5k:

“I’m liking the progress so far. You know, [Selemon] Barega is going to the 10k, [Yomif] Kejelcha is going to the 10k. That’s a good sign. They got to keep going and keep going all the way to the roads. And I’m just going to keep, keep digging, digging, digging that 5k. Eventually it will get to a point that I’m going to get the gold and then try to move up. So maybe that’s next year Eugene, Oregon.

“It’s going to be really, really great to win in Eugene, Oregon. If I get to win gold in Eugene, Oregon, I can even think of going to the roads or the marathon, but now I just got to keep going. I have missions that I have to go accomplish” 

On people bashing him and his love for America:

“You just see randomly people just bashing you, people just like trying to bring you down. I’m like, man, you know, that’s not about life, man. Life is about supporting each other. Life is about like bringing each other up. For example, I lost my brother [this year]. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, but the thing is, if you cannot say something positive about my life and anything, just shut up. Just be quiet, you know, that’s the only thing I need for now. I don’t want those fake fake people supporting me, but really, really the big part of it is I want the Americans to be behind the Americans and support the Americans. I don’t really care what they say, but if you can’t support your fellow American, just be quiet and that’s it.

“That’s the only thing I’m saying. If you can’t support your fellow Americans, man, just be quiet because you don’t deserve to be an American then, because for me, I was born in Kenya, but I feel like I’m more American than them because of what I do for this country, the effort that I put for this country and the love that I give to the people of this country.”

On “going home devastated” on the LetsRun forums:

“I used to be a big fan of LetsRun, but then now it gets to a point that, you know, like I just feel more like broken if I go to LetsRun than being more excited. For example, after the race in Tokyo, I went to LetsRun and you know, like some comments, I didn’t even go deep [to find them]. I just looked and I just know that…. For example, big thing is like when you guys put ‘Paul Chelimo goes home devastated’ or ‘Centro goes home devastated’ or like ‘Eliud Kipchoge goes home devastated’, when you put those types of things and you put them on top, when you like try to pin them on your website. That really encourages this type of negativity, because if someone sees those types of things, if anyone sees anything negative, like on top of that, they’re going to try to create negative stuff so that it can trend.”

On 4th placer Nicholas Kimeli saying Paul should be DQ’d at the 2020 Olympics:

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“Don’t worry about Nicholas. This, this guy is a sore loser man. That’s what I know about him. And I don’t entertain him anymore…

“I don’t know what’s wrong, but Nicholas Kimeli always tries to, he tries to just talk to me, but then be like a hypocrite because he is always doing things that really surprises me.

“In 2019, in Doha I think we had like something big man like he was trying to, he was about to swing. I’m like, bro you don’t get to such an [inaudible]. And we talked, we finished it and now like every race [there is an issue]. He was about to cost me in that race [Tokyo], because he just kept like elbowing and kept like, doing like crazy.

“If you could rewatch the race, he was all over the place, you know, all over the place. And then the big part is how do you want me to get disqualified when you are the one who pushed me off the rail. At least it makes sense if someone else was doing it, but it’s you who did it, clearly like you’re the one who pushed me with the elbow into the rail….

“I feel like maybe in his mind he thinks like, ‘oh, this guys is a sellout.’ You know, maybe I think that’s what is in his mind… 

“At the Pre Classic, there was a Kenyan guy. We finished the race and he was like, ‘I’m glad Paul didn’t win that race.’

“I just laugh, man…they are friends with Kimeli, they work together. I mean, it is what it is. When you put effort on the negative vibes, then negative vibes come back to you. If you try to do positive things, positive things comes back to you…

“You don’t know it’s God, man. Like I don’t even know, people think I dove in that race, but I feel like I was meant to medal in that type of race, you know, and you can’t control my destiny…

“If I’m going to get 4th in a race, trust me, I’m just going to go home sulking and take it in [rather] than talking about disqualification, you know, like that’s, that’s being a loser. If you’re going to go directly and try to talk about disqualification, so you can medal that shows a lot of weakness.”

On finishing in lane 4 at the Olympic Trials:

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“The Trials was a different type of game. Do you guys remember that? The big thing about the Trials was, I was on the team, but, can Paul Chelimo win, and there was a lot of pressure because you remember 2019, what happened?

Lopez Lomong won against me [in 2019] and I didn’t want the same type of situation. I just really wanted to make it tough and make sure I win. I get the win I’m drifting, drifting all the way to lane four… that was not part of my plan before the race started… that was just not me, but when the going gets tough, you know, like you just have to do your best, like mentally it’s a mental game and it’s a different type of game. Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher, those guys were fit…

“I could feel the vibe. They really wanted to get the win. So the pressure, just going into the trials, the pressure, all that just brought all that. And it’s just the pressure and everything. “

Click here to listen the full podcast on your favorite podcast app and here more from Paul, including more details on why he and Kimeli nearly came to blows in 2019.