How Femke Bol bounced back from devastating fall to stand on top of the World

How Femke Bol bounced back from devastating fall to stand on top of the World
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Losing when victory is in your hands is one of the most devastating fates in sport. However, when that victory would have also belonged to your nation, your team — even your friends — the loss cuts deeper.

Such was the case for Femke Bol, the Dutch 400m hurdles phenomenon as she anchored her team in the final of the 4x400m mixed relay final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

Just minutes earlier, her teammate Sifan Hassan had fallen spectacularly on the track with the finish line and gold within her sights.

The crowd gasped in disbelief as athlete after athlete passed her, while her dreams of winning triple gold at the Worlds went up in smoke.

And those gasps turned to loud groans just one race later, as Bol, battling with all her strength to stay in front in the mixed relay final crashed to the ground metres from the line. The baton flew from her hand and with it went the chance of gold for the Netherlands.

“Maybe it’s national fall down day,” Hassan joked after the consecutive falls.

But for Bol, this was no laughing matter, as the devastated athlete bowed down after the race, contemplating the gravity of a loss that not only robbed herself of the chance of gold but also her teammates.

For Bol, dwelling too long on the loss could have meant the end of her championships. She had to find a way to pick herself back up for the 400m hurdles and the 400m relay — the final event of the Championships.

“I would like my revenge,” she told reporters having had time to digest the weight of her costly fall.

And boy is that what she got.

The fall and rise of Femke Bol

In some ways these Worlds had been tailor-made to be the championships of Bol.

With 400m hurdles world record holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone pulling out of the competition with injury just days before it was due to start, the Dutch star was the undisputed favourite in her pet event, while the Netherlands were also tipped by many for relay gold.

However, life doesn’t always turn out the way you imagine and the question became whether Bol could turn this situation around fast enough to reach the heights many expected of her.

In the end, there was no reason to worry.

In a spectacular run in the 400m hurdles final, the 23-year-old blazed to victory in 51.70 seconds.

For the race commentator, there was no hiding the brilliance of the comeback: “Denied a golden finish in the relay, this was her night to shine and that is an outstanding performance,” he said of Bol’s gold.

The athlete herself was equally aware of the depths of strength she needed to call upon to secure this victory.

“After the mixed [relay] I wanted to be good for myself, I knew I was strong [but] I wanted to prove to myself I was also mentally strong,” she said.

A rising phoenix that continued to soar

With her individual comeback complete, Bol now had one last obstacle to surmount. Doing it for yourself is one thing but now she had the chance to do it for her team.

That opportunity presented itself in the very last race of the championships as she once again anchored her team in a relay.

Running the final 400m for the Netherlands, Bol found herself in third place coming into the final 100m stretch, some 20 metres behind the Jamaicans.

But in a spectacular turn of events, the Dutch athlete stormed past Nicole Yeargin of Great Britain before passing Jamaica’s Stacey Ann Williams in almost the exact same place she had fallen on the first night of the championships.

Gold belonged to Bol. But more than that to her teammates and nation.

“It’s been an amazing championship with so many emotions,” she told the media after the race while standing side by side with her teammates. “For now I’m really tired but we’re also enjoying it so much. To be together on the podium, it’s one of the best feelings.”

What’s next for Femke Bol?

Bol now has two races left to add even more of a shine to an already glistening season.

She will race in the Brussels Diamond League on 8 September before lining up in the Diamond League finals, which take place from 16-17 September in Eugene, Oregon.

However, perhaps the most exciting repercussion of such a gutsy performance at these Worlds are the effect it may have on her prospects for Paris 2024.

Yes, she will likely need to take on the masterful Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone at those Olympics but she will go there with the confidence of a champion.

More than that, a champion who has risen from the depths to conquer the world.

Photo:Michael Steele/Getty Images
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