Eliud Kipchoge Defends Olympic Marathon Title, Securing His Legacy
Eliud Kipchoge, 36, of Kenya, won his second consecutive Olympic marathon Sunday in 2 hours 8 minutes 38 seconds, reaffirming his status as the greatest runner in history over the 26.2 mile distance.
He finished 80 seconds ahead of silver medalist Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands, who ran 2:09:58. Bashir Abdi of Belgium won bronze in 2:10:00.
The race took place in Sapporo, Japan, 500 miles north of Tokyo, with the aim of providing athletes with a respite from the extreme heat and humidity of the capital. Still, conditions were oppressive, with a temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 86 percent at the start.
Galen Rupp, 35, the American who won a bronze medal in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, followed Kipchoge for the first 17.5 miles. At this point, Kipchoge motioned for Rupp to help him by running up front. Rupp smiled but didn’t respond, and a seemingly annoyed Kipchoge began to walk away, taking over the race and running alone for the last eight miles and more. Rupp returned to eighth place in 2:11:41.
Kipchoge came close to defying his world record of 2:01:39 on that brutal day, but he only became the third man to win the Olympic marathon twice defending his victory at the Rio Olympics. .
Ethiopian Abebe Bikila won gold at the Games in Rome in 1960 running barefoot, then again in Tokyo in 1964, this time in shoes, and did Swedish gymnastics in the infield of the Olympic stadium. .
Waldemar Cierpinski of ex-East Germany won the marathon at the 1976 Montreal Games and the 1980 Moscow Olympics. But his victories came in a country that applied a well-documented and ubiquitous system of sponsored doping by the state, have become suspect.
The dominating success of marathon runners in East African countries Kenya and Ethiopia has sadly made them largely anonymous, with their regular triumphs often seen as the same, interchangeable. But Kipchoge stood out for his speed and consistency, his pioneering achievements and his philosophical nature.
“We will all be in the same frying pan,” he told reporters of the expected heat and humidity in Sapporo.
Kipchoge seemed relaxed from the start, bouncing lightly in shoes containing Nike’s latest technology, not bothering to wear a hat, occasionally rubbing small bags of crushed ice on the back of his neck and under his arms and pouring water. on his shoulders to stay as cool as possible.
At around 11.5 miles, he smiled and punched Brazilian runner Daniel do Nascimento. Four miles later, do Nascimento began to struggle and quickly stopped running, collapsing from exhaustion to the side of the road. Kipchoge prepared for his decisive blow. Once he did, it quickly became apparent that no one could catch him.
After all, he had become the first person to run a marathon in under two hours, finishing in 1:59:40 (sometimes reported as 1:59:41) at an exhibition in Vienna in 2019. It was just as much a laboratory experiment. like a race, taking place under controlled conditions with focusing methods and the availability of fluids that did not meet the rules for a standard marathon. But Kipchoge still produced a sense of wonder that a man could run 26.2 miles while maintaining a pace of 4 minutes 34 seconds per mile.
He entered Sunday’s race after winning 12 of 14 official marathons he had competed in, including, in a single streak, a remarkable 10 in a row in seven years. He set the official world record of 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon and seemed unfazed when the unexpected happened. He won the 2015 Berlin Marathon even though the insoles had started to come out of his Nike shoes.
A millionaire, Kipchoge is known to lead an ascetic life while training with his high-altitude running group in Kenya: living apart from his family, chopping vegetables for communal meals, cleaning the toilets, washing his equipment by hand and draw water from a well.
But there isn’t an endless number of marathon wins for a runner. The subtext of this Olympic marathon was this question: was it going to be a celebration of Kipchoge’s career, or an elegy?
He had looked potentially vulnerable lately. His winning streak came to an end at the 2020 London Marathon, in which Kipchoge finished in eighth place on a cold, rainy and windy day when he felt a blockage in his ear and hip cramps and to the legs.
He recovered to win a marathon in the Netherlands in April, but the Olympics would confirm, for many, whether London was just a momentary mistake for Kipchoge or a sign that an unparalleled career was starting to decline.
He answered the question unequivocally on Sunday, waving to the crowd as he neared the finish line and wielding his fist in victory over the board.
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