By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(08-Aug) — Eliud Kipchoge added to his already superlative legacy with a dominant win at today’s Olympic men’s marathon, cruising home to a seemingly easy victory on an uncomfortably hot morning on the final day of the Summer Games. The 36-year-old Kenyan became only the third man to win two gold medals in the event. Behind him, Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands took silver, encouraging his training partner Bashir Abdi of Belgium to the bronze right behind him.
Kipchoge, the world record holder and the most dominant marathoner of the last decade, earned his fourth Olympic medal overall, having won a pair on the track over 5000 meters, in 2004 (bronze) and 2008 (silver). He was also the world champion in the shorter event as a teenager back in 2003.
The 42.195-kilometer (26.2-mile) race was held in Sapporo, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) northeast of host city Tokyo in a move that was intended to provide more comfortable conditions. Alas, it was already 26C/78F (80% humidity) when the field of 106 men set off at 7:00 am Sunday morning and would climb a few degrees over the course of the competition. Given the heat, the opening half was predictably cautious, with the first four 5-K segments clocked in 15:17, 15:36, 15:10 and 15:44, respectively, roughly a 2:10 pace. Despite the conservative tempo, there were already signs that it was going to be a challenging day, with early casualties included 2012 gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, and Shura Kitata of Ethiopia, the 2020 London Marathon winner.
At halfway (1:05:13) more than 30 men were still in contention, including America Galen Rupp, the bronze medalist in Rio, reigning world champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, Kenyans Amos Kipruto and Lawrence Cherono, the 2019 Boston Marathon champion, and Osako Suguru of Japan.
By 27-K the field was down to 13, but no major moves had been made. Finally, after covering the distance between 25-K and 30-K in a still-reasonable 15:07, Kipchoge hit the accelerator after exchanging some words with Rupp who was running closely behind him. In a matter of seconds he opened a gap on the field, which immediately fragmented. Six men formed a chase pack: Cherono, Kipruto, Abdi, Nageeye, Ayad Lamdassem of Spain and Alphonce Simbu Tanzania. Osako and Rupp could not match the surge and fell back.
“I wanted to create a space to show the world that this is a beautiful race,” said Kipchoge, who had a 10-race winning streak between 2014 and 2019 before an uncharacteristic eighth place finish in London last fall. “I wanted to test my fitness, I wanted to test how I’m feeling. I wanted to show that we have hope in the future.”
As Kipchoge blitzed his way to 35-K with a 14:28 split, he had his trademark faint grin his face and a relaxed stride. “That smile is the happiness,” he said. “They say to enjoy this world is to be happy. While you are happy it helps you relax and enjoy the race.”
Kipchoge crossed the finish line in 2:08:38, almost exactly seven minutes off his world record (2:01:39, set in Berlin in 2018) and nearly nine minutes behind the 1:59:41 he ran in 2019 in an unofficial exhibition. He joined Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia (1960 and 1964) and East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski (1976 and 1980) as the only repeat marathon champions in Olympic history.
In his wake, Abdi, Cherono and Lamdassem briefly separated from the remaining challengers, but Nageeye soon caught up and it became a four-man race for the remaining pair of medals. That quartet stuck together until the final 400 meters, when Lamdassem lost contact. Nageeye sprinted ahead, turning back to enthusiastically gesture at Abdi to join him. They finished in 2:09:58 and 2:10:00, respectively. Cherono, who won the 2019 Boston Marathon with a powerful sprint, could not answer his opponents’ final surge.
Cherono (2:10:02) missed the bronze by just two seconds, matching the smallest gap between third and fourth places in Olympic history. Kipchoge’s margin of victory (1 minute and 20 seconds) was 10 seconds more than in Rio five years ago and was the largest since Frank Shorter won by more than two minutes in 1972.
Coached by Gary Lough, Nageeye and Abdi also train with British star Mo Farah, and are good friends. “In the last 800 meters I wanted to go, but I thought about Bashir,” Nageeye said of his late-race cheerleading. “In the last 3-K he suffered from a cramp and I was encouraging him to come through.”
Nageeye, the Dutch record holder at 2:06:17, finished 11th in the Rio Olympics and had never previously made the podium in a major international race. “I don’t want to mention names but many people they had doubts,” he said. “They never believed in me. I always believed in myself. I was a nomad, I packed my bags and trained in France, America, Ethiopia, Kenya. People think I’m doing too many things [with my training] but I just kept believing in myself. To stand on the podium with Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest of all time… it is amazing.”
Abdi continued his good luck in Japan after setting the Belgian record (2:04:49) to finish second at the 2020 Tokyo Marathon.
Lamdassem (2:10:16) finished fifth, with Osako (2:10:41), Simbu (2:11:35), Rupp (2:11:41), Morocco’s Othmane el Goumri (2:11:58) and Belgium’s Koen Naert (2:12:13) rounding out the top 10. American Jacob Riley (2:16:26), who had moved up to as high as 20th place as late as 35-K, finished 29th, while 44-year-old countryman Abdi Abdirahman (2:18:27) placed 41st in his fifth Olympics.
Ultimately, 76 men finished the race, with 30 dropping out.