MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXXIV) – London 2012: TIKI GELANA (1987-)

London 2012 Olympic Park

London became in 2012 the first city hosting the Olympic Games for a third time, after doing so in 1908 and 1948. To do so, it defeated bids from Moscow, New York, Madrid and Paris. 

Despite using existing venues a new Olympic Park was built in the industrial area of Stratford, in East London.

At sports level, London 2012 welcomed the first female athletes from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei, an important step forward for women´s rights in these countries.

The women´s marathon was scheduled for August 5th at 11.00 using a flat course that started and finished at The Mall, very close to Buckingham Palace.

Without the local legend Paula Radcliffe, absent with a foot injury, the main favourites were the African athletes that have shined in the previous World Championships, in Daegu 2011: Edna Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo, from Kenya, who had topped the podium, and Aselefech Mergia, from Ethiopia, who had finished 3rd. Also, worth to mention the Russian Liliya Shobukhova, who had won in Chicago 2011 with a PB of 2.18.20, the second fastest of all-time.

From left to right Keitany (Kenya), Gelana (Ethiopia) and Jeptoo (Kenya) at the London 2012 Olympic Marathon

Tiki Gelana was born in Jijiga, a town in Ethiopia famous for producing many top runners, in 1987. Her uncle was the Sydney Olympic Marathon winner Gezhagne Abera. She began competing in road races in Ethiopia before running at international level. Her first marathon was in Dublin in 2009, finishing 3rd in 2.33.49. The following year she run the marathons of Los Angeles and Dublin again, improving her PB to 2.29.53. She didn´t wait long to claim a victory, that came in the Amsterdam Marathon of 2011 with 2.22.08. But she still had room for improvement, as she demonstrated by winning the Rotterdam Marathon of 2012 with a PB of 2.18.58. That was the 4th best time for a female ever. That result, only a few months before the Olympics, placed Gelana as one of the strongest contenders in London 2012.

Just 30 minutes before the marathon start a heavy thunderstorm introduced a typical British summer day to the spectators watching around the globe. Still raining, 118 athletes from 68 nations started the race, chasing a place in Olympic glory.

The 10k was reached in 34.46, with a large leading group where the powerful squads of Kenya, Ethiopia and Japan run comfortably. Things didn´t change much. Valeria Straneo from Italy was leading a big group when crossing the 20k in 1.09.26.

Soon after Mary Keitany from Kenya decided to heat things up by increasing the pace, that quickly reduced the group. By the time the front runners arrived to the 30k (1.42.44) Keitany was only accompanied by her teammates Kiplagat and Jeptoo and the Ethiopians Gelana and Tirunesh Dibaba. They had a 9s lead on fast coming Tatyana Petrova, from Russia, who was only a few seconds ahead over Shanale Flanagan, from the US.

By the 35k (1.59.29) Petrova, Gelana, Keitany and Jeptoo were 4s ahead of Kiplagat and 27s ahead of Flanagan y Dibaba. The leading group only increased its advantage, arriving to the 40k in 2.16.10. It was clear that among these four runners would have to fight for the three medal positions. One of them would miss the podium and taste defeat.

Gelana, who had run mostly within herself, saw her chances increase during the last 1500 metres. When Keitany slowed down, she surged ahead. With Keitany out, and soon after Petrova, everything came down to a duel between Gelana and Jeptoo. In a fiery sprint Gelana claimed victory for Ethiopia in 2.23.07, Olympic record, and another Olympic gold medallist in the marathon for her nation. She was followed closely by Jeptoo (2.23.12), winning the third consecutive silver medal for Kenya, and Petrova (2.23.29) of Russia. Meanwhile Keitany, who had taken leading duties for most of the race, had to settle with the 4th place.

Shortly after the Olympics Tiki Gelana improved her PB in the half marathon to 1.07.48 at the Great North Run and was chosen the AIMS World Athlete of the Year. Selected for the marathon Ethiopian team at the 2013 Moscow World Championship she dropped out after just 5k. She finished 9th in the 2014 London Marathon (2.26.58) and third in Tokyo in 2015 (2.24.26) before retiring, aged 29.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Summer_Olympics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Women%27s_marathon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiki_Gelana

https://worldathletics.org/news/report/london-2012-event-report-womens-marathon

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/aug/05/london-2012-womens-olympic-marathon

London 2012 gold Olympic medal

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