Ethiopian runner Etenesh Diro ran the last 800 meters of her 3000m steeplechase heat with one shoe on and one shoe off, but she was later given a chance to compete in the final at the Rio Olympics on Saturday.
As one of the favorites in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, Diro was sitting comfortably in first place about two-thirds into her heat when disaster struck.
She got tangled up with some other competitors and her right shoe came half-off when her heel was clipped by a falling opponent, sending her tumbling to the ground.
The 25-year-old stood and quickly tried to put it back on her foot, but the laces were tied tight and with no time to spare she cast it aside.
Realizing she’d have a better chance of running barefoot, her sock went too, and the African set about attempting to fight her way back into a race where only the first three place finishers were guaranteed of progressing to the final.
With every step of Diro’s barren foot, the energy went up a notch and she responded by passing several runners in the final few laps to take seventh place, which meant she would fail to qualify for the final.
Diro fell to the track, exhausted, clutching her foot after crossing the finish line. She thought she had missed out in disappointment as competitors offered their support.
But then something heartwarming happened. Following protests by the Ethiopia, Ireland and Jamaica teams, Diro, Ireland’s Sara Treacy and Jamaica’s Aisha Praught were allowed to the final.
“I went down pretty hard. You brace because you don’t expect that,” Praught said. “All I know is the girl in front of me stopped to put on her shoe. She stopped right in front of me. That’s when I fell … You don’t expect that.”
Diro now has the opportunity to improve on a sixth-placed finish in London. She will now be the fan favorite in the final on Monday.