Kiprotich leads Kenyans through the streets of London
OLYMPICS:STANDING ROOM only on the streets of London – and in the end even those of us in the press seats were on our feet, leaning over for a closer look at the man who had just pulled off one of the great coups in marathon history.
Just when it seemed these Olympics couldn’t script any more romantic tales, or possibly surprise us anymore, Stephen Kiprotich – a 23-year-old from Uganda – won the first gold medal for his country in 40 years, and only their third medal ever.
And therein lies only part of this final story – played out live in front of what seemed like one million people, packed in and around the most iconic sights of London, in the blazing midday sunshine.
It was the picture that once again captured exactly why the Olympics will never cease to amaze, and why these Olympics were the most amazing of all.
Six years ago, fuelled by the desire to match the accomplishments of the great runners from neighbouring Kenya, Kiprotich told his mother the only way he’d ever beat them, was to join them: she let him go, reluctantly, and now that’s exactly what he’s done.
Four years ago, Sammy Wanjiru became the first Kenyan to win an Olympic marathon, and the Kenyans have dominated practically every big city marathon in the four years since.
Here, Kenya were reduced to the minor placings, as Kiprotich kicked past Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang, the early leader, at exactly 23 miles, and turned the last three miles into a victory salute. He finished in two hours, eight minutes and 11 seconds – proving that times count for nothing when medals are at stake.
“I came ready for war,” Kiprotich said afterwards, “And I came to do my best to make my country proud.
“The pace was too fast, early on, and I knew I could not run away from them, so I just had to keep up with them, the Kenyan runners. Then I tried to settle and then I had to break away because I wanted to win this medal.”
Kirui took silver, and Kipsang the bronze – but Kenyan athletics must be starting to wonder if their secret is becoming so open that’s it’s no longer the secret to their success: Kiprotich now lives and trains around the same roads of Eldoret as Kirui and Kipsang does.
Kiprotich also took apart one of the best marathon fields ever assembled, and leaving most of the 84 other finishers out on their feet – including Ireland’s Mark Kenneally. The 31-year-old, running only his third ever marathon, started consistently and paced himself well, but like so many other fell apart over the closing miles, and finished 57th in 2:21:13.
If Kenneally was a little hard on himself afterwards he needn’t have been: there were 21 who failed to finish, including two of the top Americans Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman, and all three of the leading Ethiopians, Ayele Abshero, Dino Sefir and Gete Feleke – at least one of whom was hoping to win gold.
“I felt good, as you will do, for 16 to 17 miles, then, for whatever reason, just blew up, ran out of juice,” said Kenneally – and he certainly wasn’t the only one.
“I don’t know if you can put it down to the conditions. It was reasonably hot but I don’t think that was it. It was just one of those things, when you blow, you blow and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do about it when you’re gone.
“I was trying to give myself to come back but it just wasn’t happening. With 2k to go I was really, really dizzy and I thought I was going to have to stop. At that point it was just damage limitation and just trying to get to the finish.”