Kenya’s Jemima Sumgong came into the women’s Olympic Marathon as one of the favorites and she lived up to the billing.
Sumgong pulled away in the final stages of the race today in Rio and captured the gold medal. Despite Kenya’s wealth of distance running talent, she’s the first Kenyan woman to ever win the Olympic Marathon, which has been contested since 1984.
Sumgong, who recovered from a fall to win the London Marathon in April, stayed on her feet in this race and finished in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 4 seconds, breaking the tape before a cheering crowd in Rio’s Sambodromo, the parade ground where the city’s Carnival takes place every year.
Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain captured the silver medal in 2:24:13 and Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia, another pre-race favorite, took home the bronze. She completed the 26.2 mile course on the streets of Rio in 2:24:30.
Led by Kirwa, those three runners broke away from a larger pack with less than five miles to go. Sumgong stayed right behind Kirwa and passed her with about two miles left in the race and never looked back.
Volha Mazuronak of Belarus shook free of a pack of about two dozen runners 13 miles into the race and briefly took the lead. That move whittled the contenders down to six or seven runners for the remainder of the race. Mazuronak, competing in her first Olympic games, ended up fifth in 2:24:48.
Strong American Showing, But No Medals
The American runners didn’t earn places on the podium, but they all finished in the top 10.
Shalane Flanagan was sixth in 2:25:26. Des Linden was right behind her in seventh, running 2:26:08 and Amy Cragg hung on to finish ninth in 2:28:25.
Flanagan was 10th in the Olympic Marathon in London in 2012. Linden had to drop out of that race with an injury and this was Cragg’s first Olympic Marathon. She was the winner of the U.S. Olympic trials race in February.
Only two American women have ever won medals in an Olympic Marathon. Joan Benoit won gold in the inaugural event in Los Angeles in 1984 and Deena Kastor snagged the bronze with her third-place finish in Athens in 2004.
A record 157 women started the marathon Sunday, and 133 finished. The race was run under sunny skies, with temperatures approaching 80 degrees by the end of the race, with high humidity.
There was very little shade on the course and many of the runners, including Flanagan and Cragg wore hats or visors.
For the Americans, the marathon performance is part of a strong showing so far in distance running events, though they haven’t yet made the medal stand.
Molly Huddle broke Flanagan’s U.S. record in the 10,000 meters on Friday. She finished sixth, though her time of 30:13:17 was nine seconds faster than Flanagan’s in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when she won the bronze medal.
And on Monday morning, three US runners, Emma Coburn, Colleen Quigley and Courtney Frerichs, will compete for medals in the final of the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
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