Top running comebacks of all time
Inspired by University of Michigan freshman Ziyah Holman's come-from-behind relay win, here are some of the best comebacks in running history
As University of Michigan freshman Ziyah Holman recently proved, runners shouldn’t give up mid-race, no matter how badly they may be losing. Running the anchor leg of a 4 x 400m relay at an indoor meet in Michigan, Holman closed a four-second gap to go from last to first in just two laps of the track. Her incredible run inspired the following list of some of the best come-from-behind wins in running history.
Dave Wottle — Munich Olympics
At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, American Dave Wottle got off to a horrible start in the 800m, and he quickly fell way behind the rest of the field. “There was a little bit of terror in the beginning because I found myself so far behind,” Wottle recalled after the race. “I was eight to 10 metres behind and I felt, ‘I’m just out of it.'”
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By the end of the first lap, he was still well behind the leaders, but at the first turn of the bell lap, he was able to hop back onto the rear end of the pack. He then began working his way through the pack. “I figured I was just going to go for third place,” he said. Then, amazingly, he sprinted into bronze position, then silver and finally, right at the line, gold.
Matthew Boling — Texas UIL Championships
Much like Holman’s massive comeback, Matthew Boling ran a huge final leg of a 4 x 400m relay to carry his team to victory. As it turns out, the 4 x 400m seems to present athletes with the best opportunity to stage a massive comeback. After all, teams normally assign the anchor leg to their strongest runners, and with 400m ahead of them, they have just enough time to catch up to first place, just as Holman, Boling and many other athletes have done.
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In Boling’s case, he was the anchor at the Texas University Interscholastic League Championships in 2019, competing for his high school. When he got the baton, he was about three seconds back of the lead, so he went to work. He proceeded to run a ridiculous 44.74 split for the 400m, absolutely hammering the final lap of the race to give his team the win by about half a second.
Phil Healy — Irish Universities Track and Field Championships
At an Irish collegiate meet in 2016, Phil Healy made up a ridiculous gap in a 4 x 400m race, adding to the relay madness on this list. When she started the final leg, she was so far behind the leaders that she wasn’t even on camera for most of the lap. She somehow enters the scene in the final 100m, barrelling down the straightaway and passing everyone in front of her to snag the win at the line before face-planting hard. As the announcer says in the race video, Healy came “from the depths of hell” to steal the win.
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Heather Dorniden — Big Ten Championships
At the Big Ten Indoor Track Championships in 2008, the University of Minnesota’s Heather Dorniden was the favourite heading into the 600m final. She moved into the lead heading into the final 200m, but just as she approached the line to start the bell lap, she tripped and took a hard fall. Her competitors were able to hop around her and continue on their way, well ahead of Dorniden, but she didn’t give up.
Getting right back to her feet, Dorniden began to sprint after the other runners, miraculously catching up before the final straightaway, and she beat her Minnesota teammate to the line for the win. “[The 600m] is basically a sprint,” the announcer said afterward. “To fall with 200m to go and then get up and win, that is unbelievable.”
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Kenenisa Bekele — Berlin Marathon
Many running fans know that Kenenisa Bekele almost broke Eliud Kipchoge‘s marathon world record at the 2019 Berlin Marathon, finishing just two seconds off the mark with a 2:01:41 result. However, people who didn’t watch the race might not be aware of how Bekele won in Berlin. It wasn’t a straightforward race for the Ethiopian legend, and while he closed well, he actually got dropped mid-race by compatriots Birhanu Legese and Sisay Lemma.
While Bekele only trailed by around 13 seconds at most, Legese and Lemma dropped him late in the race, and by 35K, Bekele still trailed. Over the final 7K, though, he clawed his way back, eventually passing Legese and carrying on at near-record pace toward the finish. Since it occurred in such a long race, this wasn’t as exciting of a comeback as the ones listed above, but looking back at it, it’s pretty remarkable that Bekele managed to not only stay in the race after getting dropped, but to eventually reclaim the lead and then run so close to the world record.