Tokyo 2020: Kipchoge’s memorable marathon success a fitting final act

Ingebrigtsen’s phenomenal 1,500 metres triumph a true highlight of the Games

The greatest of all time. The greatest of all time.

Believe me there are a few athletes carved out across several events who are walking away from Tokyo perfectly entitled to feel that way about themselves – Karsten Warholm chief among them – although this one last moment belongs to Eliud Kipchoge.

I first saw Kipchoge run when he won the World Championship 5,000m metres in Paris in 2003. In the last athletics event in Tokyo, 18 years later, he won the men's marathon in 2:08:38, only the third man to retain an Olympic marathon title, the first of them being Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia at the 1964 Olympics, also staged in Tokyo.

This time the event was moved 800km north of Tokyo to Sapporo in the hope it might spare the runners some of the crippling heat of the Japanese summer, only it didn’t work out that way.


Kipchoge’s winning margin of one minute and two seconds was the biggest victory margin in an Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter’s win in Munich in 1972, in part because rival runners one after another fell off, or else, out as several athletes later reported skin temperatures in excess of 40 degrees such was the dying heat.

The 35-year-old Kenyan had the closing six miles all too himself, the Dutch runner Abdi Nageeye winning silver in 2:09:58, two seconds clear of Bashir Abdi from Belgium who won the bronze.

It was even more impressive than Kipchoge’s win in Rio five years ago, the world record holder back inside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium later in the night to receive his second gold medal

"I think I have fulfilled the legacy by winning the marathon for the second time, back-to-back. I hope now to help inspire the next generation," said Kipchoge, who joined 1960 and 1964 champion Bikila and East German Waldemar Cierpinski, the winner in Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980, as a back-to-back winner.

“It means a lot for me, especially at this time. It was really hard last year, with the Olympic Games postponed. I am happy for the local organising committee who made this race happen. It is a sign that shows the world we are heading in the right direction – we are on the right transition to a normal life.”

Blue riband

Try as they did, the Irish trio of Kevin Seaward, Paul Pollock and Stephen Scullion found the conditions truly exhausting. Seaward was the best of them in 58th place, running 2:21.45 of the 106 starters, with only 76 reaching the finish.

Pollock ran 2:27.48 to finish 71st, and for Scullion the conditions combined with the not ideal build-up meant he dropped out shortly before the halfway. Things went awry early in the race for the 32-year-old as he slipped to the rear of the field by 15km and stepped off the course not long after.

That ended the athletics events a day after Jakob Ingebrigtsen broke several Olympic 1,500 metres records in this one spectacular moment.

No Norwegian had ever won the blue riband event, no European had won it since Fermin Cacho in 1992, and none of us here could recall any runner winning this event before his 21st birthday. The last man to win it age 21 was our own Ronnie Delany in Melbourne in 1956.

“This is the pinnacle,” added Ingebrigtsen, and in distance running terms of course it is. Ingebrigtsen doesn’t turn 21 until September and the only number that mattered to him inside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Saturday was his 3:28.32.

That improved the Olympic record set in Thursday’s semi-finals, and also improved the European record. At age 20, we’re already run out of words to describe the youngest of the three Ingebrigtsen brothers – who has already won what no other man, woman or boy could win in the long history of European or Olympic distance running.

That was his 1,500m-5,000m double at the European Championships in Berlin in 2018. on Saturday night in Tokyo he beat Kenya's world champion Timothy Cheruiyot for the first time, kicking past him on the crown of the last bend.

Cheruiyot had beaten Ingebrigtsen in their previous 12 races, including the 2019 World Championship showdown in Doha, only not this time. Cheruiyot took silver in 3:29.01, just holding off Britain's Josh Kerr, who still ran a magnificent lifetimes best of 3:29.05 to nail the bronze medal.

After coming close to 125 years without an American men's gold medal on the track, the quartet of Michael Cherry, Michael Norman, Bryce Deadmon and Rai Benjamin wrapped up the gold medal in what was the last race on the track, the men's 4x400m relay, clocking 2:55.70, the fourth-fastest time in history.

World record

The Dutch quartet produced national record of 2:57.18 to take silver, while Botswana broke their own African record from the heats to take bronze in 2:57.27

No harm in trying, as mad as it was, Sifan Hassana also completing two parts of what might have been unprecedented distance running treble at the last step after she won the women’s 10,000m

With the 5,000m gold medal already in her tracksuit pocket from Monday night, and bronze in the 1,500m from Friday, the Dutch woman toed the line inside the Olympic Stadium knowing she’d need to beat Letesenbet Gidey from Ethiopia to win this, the recent world record holder at the distance.

After nine days and six races totalling 61 and a quarter laps of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium track, the 28-year-old double world champion added her second gold, winning in 29:55.32. Kalkidan Gezahegne ran 29:56.18 for silver and Gidey 30:01.72 for bronze.

“It’s not about how strong I am but how strong are the ladies I challenge. Now I am happy, I am done, it’s over,” said Hassan.

Over indeed until another three years.