Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge won the men’s marathon on Sunday, surging ahead with about nine miles to go and leaving his closet rival more than a minute behind on the streets of Rio.
Kipchoge, who was considered the favorite, finished the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 44 seconds. The race began and ended in the Sambrodomo, the parade ground for the city’s iconic Carnival.
Kipchoge, who won the London Marathon earlier this year in near world-record time, is just the second Kenyan man to win the gold medal in the Olympic marathon.
Most of the race was run at about 5 minutes per mile. But when Kipchoge started to make his push, he quickly thinned out the large pack of other runners with miles at 4:45, 4:43, 4:41 and then the 21st mile in 4:35. That last mile separated him from everyone and effectively ended the race.
Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lelisa finished second in 2:09:54 and American Galen Rupp, running just the second marathon of his life, took bronze in 2:10:05.
Rupp is the first U.S. runner to medal in the men’s marathon since Meb Keflezighi in Athens in 2004. Rupp also finished fifth in the Olympic 10,000 meters in Rio and won a silver medal in that event in London four years ago.
Keflezighi, 41, was back again for another marathon, but struggled in Sunday’s race, stopping several times and finishing 33rd in 2:16:46.
The other American in the race, Jared Ward, finished 6th in 2:11:30, a personal best.
Running in his fourth and final Olympics, Keflezighi told NBC he actually had to stop and rest seven times during the race. He slipped on the wet surface just before the finish and then did a few push-ups before getting up and crossing the line.
A week of stellar performances
The men’s marathon on the final day of the Olympics wrapped up more than a week of outstanding performances by distance runners in Rio.
Ethiopian Almaz Ayana set a world record in the women’s 10,000 meters by more than 14 seconds and followed that up with a bronze in the 5,000.
Mo Farah of Great Britain completed a historic double-double. When he crossed the finish line first in the 5,000 on Saturday night, he became just the second runner to win the 5,000 and 10,000 in back-to-back Olympics. Lasse Viren of Finland accomplished that feat in 1972 and 1976.
Rupp’s bronze medal in the marathon also put a punctuation mark on a strong performance by American middle- and long-distance runners.
Matt Centrowitz won the 1,500 meters on Saturday night, the first U.S. man to do that since 1908. Later on Saturday evening, Paul Chelimo was second in the 5,000, the first American to medal in that event since 1964.
Earlier, Evan Jager and Emma Coburn won medals, silver and bronze respectively, in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Jager is the first U.S. man to medal in that event since 1984 and Coburn is the first American woman to ever take an Olympic medal in the steeplechase.
Jenny Simpson, who came from behind to finish third in the 1,500 meters, became the first American woman to medal in that race.
And in the men’s 800, Clayton Murphy surged down the home stretch to claim bronze, the first medal for the U.S. in 24 years.
But Kipchoge stole the show on Sunday.
He has now won seven of the eight marathons he’s run. His winning time in London this April was 2:03:05, just eight seconds off the world record held by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto.
Kipchoge has spoken about his desire to claim that record for himself, so he may target London again next year, or possibly one of the fast fall marathons this year, in Berlin or Chicago.
His victory in Rio gave the Kenyans a sweep of the marathons. Jemima Sumgong became the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic marathon when she took gold last Sunday.