MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXXVII) – Rio 2016: ELIUD KIPCHOGE (1984-)

Start of RIo 2016 Olympic marathon (Photo by Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0)

The men’s marathon at the Rio 2016 Olympics was held on August 21, the final day of the Games, following an urban course that started and finished at the Sambadrome. The event attracted the world’s top marathoners, with 155 participants from 79 nations, including seven of the top-10 finishers from London 2012.

Among the favorites was Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, who had already won four Majors previously,  after abandoning the track. Other notable competitors included Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich, the reigning Olympic (and 2013 World) champion, and Meb Keflezighi of the USA, silver medalist in  Athens 2004 and fourth-place finisher in London 2012, among others who had also proven theiir skill in previous competitions.

Eliud Kipchoge was born on November 5, 1984, in Kapsisiywa, Kenya, and used to run 3 kilometers daily to school from a very young age. He began his athletic career as a middle-distance runner, winning the Junior World Cross Country Championships in 2003. That same year, he won gold in the 5000 meters at the World Championships, defeating the legendary Hicham El Guerrouj. At the 2004 Olympics, he won bronze in the same distance, finishing behind El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele, who also denied him the Olympic gold four years later at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the same event. In 2012, surprisingly, he did not qualify for the London 2012 Olympics in any event. This result pushed him to debut in the half marathon, and later on in the marathon, in Hamburg 2013. His athletic journey reached another level with victories in Chicago (2014), Berlin (2015) and London (2015 and 2016). He arrived very experienced to Rio, seeking to confirm his status at the Olympic event.

Regarding the Rio 2016 marathon, the runners were going to face the hot and humid climatic conditions typical of Rio’s tropical climate, with light rain, 83% humidity, and 24°C (75°F) at the start of the race, at 9:30 AM.

At the beginning, a large group of runners set a solid but controlled pace, staying together during the early kilometers to save energy and adapt to the weather conditions. By the 15-kilometer mark, the group still included 62 runners, before Kipchoge moved to the front and increased the pace slightly. This led to a thinning of the leading group, with 46 runners crossing the half marathon (1h05m), and 37 at the 25-kilometer mark.

As the race progressed and the pace quickened, some favorites, such as Kiprotich and Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, the world champion, began to fall behind.

By the 30-kilometer mark, only eight runners remained at the front, led by Ethiopian Lemi Berhanu, who called for assistance from his compatriot Feyisa Lilesa to break away from the rest of the group. The group quickly reduced to just four runners: the two Ethiopians, Kipchoge, and the US runner Galen Rupp, in his international marathon debut. By the 33-kilometer mark, Berhanu also began to lose contact.

By the 35-kilometer mark, Kipchoge, increasing his stride, managed to establish a slight lead over Lilesa and Rupp. His pace remained steady as his rivals struggled to keep up. At the 40-kilometer mark, Lilesa was in second place, 36 seconds behind, maintaining a 12-second gap ahead of Rupp, who was clinging to third place.

With the gold medal nearly secured, Kipchoge allowed himself to run the final kilometers more relaxed, crossing the finish line with a smile in 2:08:44. Lilesa finished second in 2:09:54, and Rupp took third in 2:10:05.

The Rio 2016 marathon confirmed Kipchoge as the best marathoner of the moment, adding the Olympic gold to his extensive athletic achievements. However, his legend was just beginning, as he would demonstrate in the years to come, but that is another story.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_2016_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_marathon

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

Kipchoge crossing the finish line and getting the gold medal in the marathon of Rio 2016

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