Mike Rowbottom ©insidethegames

Just because an athlete has finished their race does not mean the race has finished with them.

The truth of this fact came home to me on Sunday (September 9) - quite close to home in fact - as I spoke with US 5,000 metres runner Paul Chelimo in the mixed zone after he had won the men's 3,000m for Team Americas at the Continental Cup in Ostrava.

Having exchanged a few sentences with the naturalised Kenyan runner who has won Rio 2016 silver and world bronze in the last two years, I found I was momentarily talking to myself as he turned casually to one side and spewed what looked like half a bottle's worth of sports drink.

Bless him, he turned straight back to me ready to carry on our little chat, even though it was clear he was still some way from equilibrium.

Paul Chelimo, of Team Americas and the US Army, salutes his victory in the gruelling 3,000m men's elimination race at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava on Sunday ©Getty Images
Paul Chelimo, of Team Americas and the US Army, salutes his victory in the gruelling 3,000m men's elimination race at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava on Sunday ©Getty Images  

Chelimo arrived in the United States eight years ago on a college scholarship and in 2014, after completing a degree in public health, he joined the US Army's World Class Athlete Programme (WCAP) based at Fort Carson in the helpful altitude of Colorado. 

It was helpful for his adopted country's Olympic ambitions too, as joining the WCAP fast-tracked him to US citizenship.

His primary activity is what the army calls TSET - Total Soldier Enhancement Training, described as "elite level, peer-based, soldier-led training...[to] expose soldiers to mental skills training that sets the conditions for more consistent and high levels of performance".

Here was an athlete especially able to adapt and survive testing challenges - which had just been proven in the manner he had secured maximum points in what was an especially testing race.

As part of the innovations being trialled in this quadrennial team event, the men's and women's 3,000m steeplechase and flat 3,000m races were made into elimination events whereby the last athletes as the field moved through the markers for the last four laps were obliged to drop out by an official waving a red paddle of the kind used to disqualify erring race walkers.

Elimination races, a mainline staple of track cycling, has been an occasional feature in track and field for more than half a century, most often indoors, as a means of piqueing the interest of spectators.

A general view during the women's omnium elimination race approaching a key checkpoint during the track cycling on day five of last month's European Championships in Glasgow ©Getty Images
A general view during the women's omnium elimination race approaching a key checkpoint during the track cycling on day five of last month's European Championships in Glasgow ©Getty Images

"Devil take the hindmost" racing is at its most effective when it involves runners of similar ability, with the athletes fanning out across the lanes over the final 40m of each critical lap in an effort to outsprint each other before reforming into normal linear mode.

Imagine a snake gorging itself, then shedding a layer of skin…

It so happened that this men's 3,000m, one of the most open events of the weekend's action in the Mestsky Stadium, was composed of eight runners of similar, if not identical, ability.

There was, too, another level of complexity involved given that Team Africa had put down one of their two "jokers" on the day, offering double points in the event of a team win, on this race.

"At the beginning they announced that Team Africa played their joker in the 3k, I knew it was going to be tough," Chelimo had begun by saying. 

"Because if a joker is played that brings a lot of pressure. I really had to keep digging deeper and deeper and just coming home with the win was enough today.

"It was a good experience. But every lap, kicking for 40 metres, that really takes it out of you. When you get over the line you are like, dead, but you have got to keep going. It was really tough."

Having agreed to complete our interview once he felt a little better, we re-grouped and then set off for the warm-up track.

The stadium, extensively re-vamped a few years back, has a capacity of just over 15,000. While the organisers' proud announcement on the eve of competition that they had sold out was a little hard to understand, given that a fair few seats remained unoccupied throughout, the crowd was certainly healthy, and the atmosphere was excellent.

Part of the reason for that was the deployment of four large blocks of children and young people clad in the respective shirts of Team Africa, yellow, Team Europe, blue, Team Asia, purple, and Team Americas, red. 

Mike Powell, team captain for the victorious Americas at the weekend's IAAF Continental Cup, signs auographs for young fans trackside ©Getty Images
Mike Powell, team captain for the victorious Americas at the weekend's IAAF Continental Cup, signs auographs for young fans trackside ©Getty Images

As an idea, it was nothing but good, ensuring enthusiastic backing at key points of the programme and, most importantly, properly "Engaging With The Youth". A pre-championship athletics tournament tied into this Continental Cup involved 17,000 children, many of whom were also present in the stadium. And many of whom were milling about outside the stadium as we emerged.

The man who, a couple of minutes earlier, had been spewing his guts after a race made the more gruelling in the service of entertainment was now regularly halted by red, yellow, blue or purple-shirted youngsters and asked for autographs or joint selfies, obliging in every case.

Thus the stop-start nature of his recent race was replicated in this latest challenge.

Eventually, after passing at one stage through a huge, multi-coloured arch of an inflateable, we gained the haven of the second track.

Before he warmed-down, there was time to ask Chelimo a few more questions.

"For me, what really matters is championships," he asserted. "I'm always a championships guy. Never count me out of a championship race."

At which point he turned casually aside and spewed some more, and I finally left him alone…