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2012 London Olympic Games Men's Marathon - Post Race Coverage
by Sharon Ekstrom
One hundred five stood on the starting line on August 12, 2012 to represent their countries at the 30th Olympic Games. The field included six men who had run sub-2:05 for the marathon with obvious standouts including Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich (KEN), double World Champion Abel Kirui (KEN), Emmanuel Mutai (KEN), Ayele Abshero (ETH), Dino Sefer (ETH), Getu Feleke (ETH), Ryan Hall (USA), silver medalist from the 2004 Athens Olympics Meb Keflezighi (USA) and two time New York City Marathon Champion Marilson dos Santos (BRA).
photo: Victah Sailer/PhotoRun
The multi-loop course for the Olympic Marathon had ninety turns and crossed uneven cobblestone streets on occasion. The turns were expected to slow the field, but the course had been tested the week before for the Women's marathon with impressive results: an Olympic Record was set, seven national records were set and sixteen women set personal best finishes. The men at the race were the fastest ever assembled and there was some talk of the desire to better the previous Olympic Record of 2:06:32 set by Sammy Wanjiru four years earlier.
Kenya, Ethiopia Favored for 2012
The Kenyan team had stated they would try to honor the memory of the late Sammy Wanjiru and his victory and record at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; but his would be a tough act fo follow. Wanjiru had earned the first gold medal at the Marathon for Kenya, a country famous for long distance running, in a time nearly three minutes faster than the prior record set in 1984 by Carlos Lopes. Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich (better known in other races as simply Wilson Kipsang), Abel Kirui and Emmanuel Mutai had survived the toughest selection process for a Kenyan Olympic berth - taking spots from others who would also definitely be contenders for a medal. The Kenyans were definitely the favorites, but they could not ignore the other competition.
The Ethiopian team was nearly as strong as the Kenyan, fielding the country's fastest marathoners - three who had run times ranging from 2:04:23 to 2:04:50 earlier in 2012: Ayele Abshero, Dino Sefer and Getu Feleke. The pundits would list the Ethiopians as favorites, but would also note that all were younger and less experienced than their Kenyan counterparts.
photo: Brant Kotch
The American Marathon Team
Team USA was represented by 2008 Olympian Ryan Hall (PR 2:04:58* - 2011 Boston Marathon), Abdi Abdirahman who would be running in his fourth Olympics; and Meb Keflezighi, the silver Medalist from the 2004 Athens Olympics, who at age 37 was most likely running his last Olympic games. The odds of an American medaling at the marathon, ahead of the Africans was low, but some were hopeful. Hall was expected to be the best possibility, by virtue of his best times which were better than his teammates, but he had disappointed before with a disappointing finish at the 2008 Beijing Games - 10th place in 2:12:33. Abdirahman and Keflezighi had both failed to make the Olympic Marathon team in 2008 and were hoping for redemption. Keflezighi, in particular, had always shown that he was tough and would never quit.
The Story of the Day
The large pack reached mile 1 in 4:53 and the first 5K in 15:23. The relatively slow start was the beginning of an erratically paced race and was also an early indicator that there would likely not be an Olympic record set on the day. In the front of the pack were Meb Keflezighi, Emmanuel Mutai and Abdi Abdirahman. Brazilian Franck de Almeida (2:12:03 PB) moved to the front and surged forward at mile 5 and gained as much as ten seconds on all others, but he slowed considerably and was reabsorbed by the pack within a few miles.
By 10K, Ryan Hall was already in trouble, back into 39th place and six seconds behind the main pack (by 15K, he would be 1:45 back and would drop out soon therafter). Thirty-five men were in the main pack. At the 7 mile mark when Wilson Kipsang, our favorite, picked up the pace - 34:27 - Kipsang picked up the pace with Abshero trying to follow and another seven men in a pack behind: Kirui, Mutai, Feleke, Dos Santos, Stephen Kiprotich (a relative unkonwn from Uganda with a PB of 2:07:20), Keflezighi and Stephen Mokoka. Abdi Abidrahman faded off the back and would be more than a minute back by 15K before dropping out.
photo: Victah Sailer/PhotoRun
As the race unfolded, our favorite in the field, Wilson Kipsang wearing a bib that read "Kiprotich", was alone in front and seemed to be poised for the win; but outcome of the race had not be determined. Kipsang's charge when he broke from the pack averaged 4:33 per mile and would have made Wanjiru proud - and by the halfway mark in 63:15 he was back on target for an Olympic Record; but many thought it could be foolhardy to break away this early in the race. By halfway, six men remained in the chase pack Kirui, Abshero, Feleke, Kiprotich, Dos Santos, Stphen Mokoka (RSA). Yared Asmerom (ERI) and Emmanuel Mutai were were back and American Meb Keflezighi was running in 17th position in a pack of ten men.
The "anything can happen in a marathon" factor took over and in a strange episode, Kipsang missed the fluid station, turned around and ran back 20 feet to retrieve his bottle and turned again thereby losing possibly 4 seconds, but more importantly affecting his momentum. Kirui, Abshero and Kiprotich were the only ones that remained in the chase pack and after the bottle episode began closing on Kipsang. By 25K they closed the gap and were merely 7 seconds off.
With 5 marathons to his name (including 4 victories), Kipsang watched his chance at a runaway Gold medal gold slip away as Kirui and Kiprotich caught him with 1:20:55 on the clock and suddenly it was a race between three men. We still expected Kipsang to be the strongest and were certain that Stephen Kiprotich was soon to be dropped. The Kenyan duo seemed to discuss their strategy at mile 20 - perhaps to discuss when to drop the Ugannada. But the trio logged a slow 4:57 mile and it seemed that Kiprotich was looking strong. After the 23 mile marker, Kiprotich picked up the pace on a slight downhill to run a 4:42 mile and quickly gained distance on Kirui and Kipsang strung out behind.
photo: Michael Wardian
The move was a decisive game changer, as the men reached mile 24 with mile splits of 4:42 mile for Kiprotich, 4:48 for Kirui and 5:01 for Kipsang. The next mile continued the trend with Kiprotich running a solid 4:58 and Kirui fading back with a 5:06 mile and Kipsang managing only a 5:29 mile... Behind, Dos Santos was in 4th having passed Abshero and Keflezighi gaining ground in 6th place and running strong.
Kiprotich of Uganda won the marathon in 2:08:01 - only the second Gold medal ever for Uganda and the first marathon Olympic medal for the country. The two Kenyans followed: Kirui in 2:08:27 and Kipsang in 2:09:37 (his slowest marathon finish EVER). American Meb Keflezighi, managed to pass all of the other runners and eagerly grabbed a US flag as he came into the final hundred meters of the race and finish in fourth place in 2:11:06.
1. Stephen KIPROTICH 2:08:01
2. Abel KIRUI 2:08:27
3. Wilson Kipsang KIPROTICH 2:09:37
4. Mebrahtom KEFLEZIGHI 2:11:06
5. SANTOS Marilson DOS 2:11:10
6. Kentaro NAKAMOTO 2:11:16
7. Cuthbert NYASANGO 2:12:08
8. Paulo Roberto PAULA 2:12:17
9. Henryk SZOST 2:12:28
10. Ruggero PERTILE 2:12:45