Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich upsets the formbook in the men’s marathon as the Olympics draw to a close
In hot conditions and in front of a vociferous and large crowd – perhaps the best ever witnessed for an Olympic marathon – Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda pulled off a huge surprise to win gold ahead of all-star teams from Kenya and Ethiopia.
The race was expected to be a simple Kenya-Ethopia battle. However, Kenya – steeplechase and David Rudisha aside – have had a relatively poor championships. They took two medals in this race, albeit not the gold they wanted, but they did at least fare better than the Ethiopian men who have had a miserable championships and it didn’t get better here as all three dropped out.
The Ugandan’s PB was just 2:07:20 from Enschede last year and he was ninth at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. But Kenya can at least claim some of the glory, as Kiprotich has been based in Kenya since he was 17 years old.
His track pbs are solid – 3000m in 7:48.06, 5000m of 13:23.70 and 10,000m of 27:58.03 – and he was fourth in the Manchester 10km earlier this year. But there was little on his CV that would suggest he’d ultimately win the race with ease.
The leaders passed 5km in 15:23, with the top 81 covered by 21 seconds. Brazils’s Frank de Almeira had pulled eight seconds clear at 10km in 30:38, but the lead pack, now numbering 35, wasn’t concerned.
Wilson Kipsang burst clear himself at 15km, but as he covered that stretch in 14:11, it perhaps wasn’t surprising and the 2:04:44 London Marathon winner had a 13-second gap to a group of eight.
The gap was 14 seconds at 20km as the leader passed 20km in 59:57. By halfway he was 16 seconds clear on 63:15 with two-time world champion Abel Kirui heading the half-dozen pack of 63:31.
Gradually the gap closed, and at 25km (74:58) Kipsang had seven seconds advantage on Kirui, Kiprotich and Ethiopia’s world leader Abele Abshero, who were 16 seconds ahead of Brazil’s Marilson dos Santos.
The pace was slowing at 30km (1:30:15) but now there was a leading trio of Kirui, Kipsang and Kiprotich with Abshero fading and Dos Santos (1:30:55) closing on the Ethiopian. At 35km the lead pack was still three as they passed in 1:46:03 and the Ugandan looked to be struggling as he dropped 10 metres behind. But then suddenly as they passed the 23 miles, Kiprotich surged clear with a ferocious burst and only Kirui could take up the chase.
Further back at 35km, Dos Santos (1:47:17) was a minute up on Kentaro Nakamoto on 1:48:15 with Meb Keflezighi right behind.
At 40km (2:01:12), Kiprotich was 100m ahead of Kirui with Kipsang fading in third, but with a huge gap to Dos Santos with Nakamoto and Keflezighi closing.
Kiprotich won in 2:08:01, 26 seconds clear of Kirui with Kipsang hanging on for bronze in 2:09:37, though undoubtedly suffering from his early mid-race burst.
“This means a lot,” said Kiprotich, who won Uganda’s second ever Olympic track and field gold after John Akii-Bua’s 400m hurdles win in 1972. “I am very happy to be Uganda’s second Olympic champion.”
USA’s Keflezighi, second in Athens in 2004, finished strongly for fourth in 2:11:06, just ahead of Dos Santos and Nakamoto. Emmanuel Mutai, one of the Kenyan favourites, finished a distant 17th, while all three Ethiopian contenders failed to finish.
Of the Brits, Lee Merrien – who had to fight for his place in the team – had a very solid well-paced run. He was 58th at 10km (31:25), 50th at halfway (66:33), 40th at 30km (1:35:39) and as others faded he moved all the way up to 30th in 2:17:00 – a respectable mark, given the conditions.
Scott Overall had a less happy time. He was 43rd at 10km (31:00), 29th at halfway (65:30), and continued moving up the field through to 30km, where he was 27th (1:34:36). But he then began to suffer and ended up 61st in 2:22:37, having taken a painful 77:07 for the second half.