Unforgiving conditions provide gruelling test for women runners
MARATHON:RIOTS ON the streets of London, crowds scattering madly about, two African running tribes going to war, a Russian landing them with a Molotov cocktail, the shattering of minds and hearts, and no words of consolation for those caught in the emotional aftermath.
The Olympic marathon has a history of scenes like this, especially the women’s race, at both ends, as unforgiving as it is unforgettable, and no one understands this better now that Caitriona Jennings.
When they lined up in the lashing rain on The Mall at 10am, 118 women with different hopes and ambitions – the goal for some was to win, for some to compete, and as it turned out for others the only goal left was to finish. In the end 11 of them didn’t, and Jennings did – a full hour behind the winner, and even if most of the crowds had dispersed, she was afforded the same round of wholesome appreciation any of the others.
By then, Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana had long exited the finish area, now blessed in sunshine, having won a second Olympic women’s marathon title for Ethiopia, following in the footsteps of Fatuma Roba in 1996, and this one in an Olympic record time of two hours, 23 minutes and seven seconds. That she survived a fall earlier in the race at one of the water stations now a mere footnote.
In the process Gelana had once again relegated the Kenyans to the minor placings, still seeking that first women’s marathon title: Priscah Jeptoo claimed silver, five seconds behind, with the Russian Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova, who very nearly caused a marathon insurrection with her late challenge, eventually settling for bronze, running a personal best of 2:23:29, That left Mary Keitany – who won London Marathon just over three months ago, and was heavily fancied to win here again – in fourth, but if she limped away disappointed then she wasn’t the only one. Britain’s main hope, Mara Yamauchi, never lasted past the opening miles, and Lornah Kiplagat, one of the most esteemed runners of the era, also failed to finish, as did the second fastest women of all time, Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova.
For the three Irish women who had made history in just qualifying for London the goal was always to be competitive – and Linda Byrne, finishing 66th 2:37:13, and Ava Hutchinson just a few strides behind in 68th in 2:37.17, both certainly achieved that, not far from their personal bests and running sensibly at their own pace throughout.