Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Olympic Marathon Recap

flanagan goucher marathon london
Goucher and Flanagan at right in the early miles
Continuing a short series of posts - A quick look back at the Olympic Marathons:

A few weeks have passed obviously since the conclusion of the men's and women's marathons, but the drama was top notch and the re-match isn't scheduled for another four years so we're going to go through it just the same. The women's marathon properly set off the second week of the Games on an early Sunday morning (led by Rupp's silver medal performance the evening before) . The Americans brought a strong team with Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher, and upstart Desi Devila. Flanagan was the one runner with truly elite talent and possible dark-horse aspirations. Devila was rumored to be injured, and she substantiated this by starting the race and dropping by 5K. Team Kenya were the heavy favorites (all three athletes), as was Russia's Liliya Shobukhova. But this was a marathon, and the London course was winding, narrow, and slicked with rain.

Flanagan Goucher london marathon
Goucher and Flanagan spent at the finish
Team Kenya moved first, breaking the race open just past the half-way mark. Shobukhova dropped due to injury soon thereafter. Flanagan and Goucher led the chase pack and Flanagan would eventually bridge only to be dropped at the next surge in pace. She would drift behind for some time then fade from the front over the last few miles ending up almost within reach of Goucher at the finish (Flanagan at 2:25:51 for 10th, Goucher at 2:26:07 for 11th). Hard to believe, but Joan Benoit's winning time of 2:24:52 from the '84 Games will remain the American Olympic record for at least another four years.

Up front the battle for medals was down to five women, Kiplagat (the reigning world champ) was dropped over the last 7K, and then the gold medal favorite Mary Keitany of Kenya cracked in the final mile after a move by unheralded but eventual champion Tiki Gelana of Ethiopa. Gelana finished in a new Olympic record time of 2:23:07, and was followed across the line by Jeptoo of Kenya and Arkhipova of Russia. It's an amazing thing to see the pressure build in a championship race of this caliber and then everyone throws down their cards and things get real over those last couple minutes. Full women's results here. Watch the full replay of the women's marathon here.

The two Americans walk-off with eleventh and tenth place finishes at the Olympic Games, Flanagan beaten and disappointed

The men's Olympic podium, Kiprotich at left
The men's race set off one week later, nearly the last competition of the Games. Heavy favorites once again were the entire Kenyan team - so good they left world record holder Patrick Makau, and Geoffrey Mutai, last year's Boston and NYC champion (who ran to course records at each race!) at home. Team Ethiopia arrived with a strong but less deep team, and the Americans brought American record holder Ryan Hall, Athens silver medalist and all around badass Meb Keflezighi, and three time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman. A runner who was not a favorite was anyone from Uganda.

A first for the flag of Uganda, Kiprotich at the finish
Unlike the women's race, the weather for the men was hot and in the 70's most of the morning. This lead to an easy early pace after which race favorite Wilson Kipsang of Kenya made a move to clinch it from a looong way out, laying down a series of 4:30 miles after the 10k mark. This surge destroyed the field and caused two of the Americans, Abdi and Hall to abandon after just 10 miles (weak). Even with this huge move, Kipsang had built himself only a 60m lead over the front pack, which chipped away at it for the next 20k. When the pack finally bridged there were only two men remaining plus Kipsang. It was two-time Kenyan World Champion Abel Kirui and Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, naturally. The Ugandan struggled after 30k, and was actually dropped for a while lingering several meters back. Kipsang remarkably tried to go once again but couldn't reach escape velocity. At 35k Kiprotich regained his strength and countered with an incredibly gutsy move of his own, a vaguely known Olympic underdog, all alone, attacking the might of team Kenya. The move was well timed, and ultimately golden. The first Olympic medal won by his nation of Uganda (2:08:01). Kirui held on gamely for silver, Kipsang finished bronze - his astonishing bid for gold at 10k was ultimately too much even for himself.

Meb Keflezighi mid race...
Behind all of this drama, Keflezighi of the US ('Meb') ran a super smart race as always - reaching halfway in a group with places 13-20 - he began to stomp everyone down in the second half. By the last 2k he had moved all the way up to 4th (2:11:06), and ran the last few hundred meters with an American flag held above his head and a fiercely pissed off Brazilian watching him trot on in ahead of him. With that, Meb solidly claimed his position as the greatest in American marathoner besides Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers. Just an absolutely brilliant career. The guy is a champ and he's going to be missed when he exits the sport and hangs up the flats. Love me some Meb. Men's full results here.  Watch the full replay of the men's marathon here

...and Keflezighi finishing like a boss with the Stars and Stripes at 42K

Spyros-Breal Silver Cup
The Spyros-Breal Silver Cup
Thought I'd make mention of the news surrounding one of the most revered pieces of Olympic memorabilia - the Breal's Silver Cup - awarded to the very first men's marathon winner, Spyridon 'Spyros' Louis of Greece for his victory in 1896. It was of course the very first race over the marathon distance, commemorating the ancient plight of Pheidippides from Marathon. Well, Spyridon is a Greek icon for winning that first race, and his Cup recently went to auction and was purchased for an incredible sum ($860K) by a Greek businessman who wants to put it on permanent display as a symbol to the Greek people not to give up in these desperate economic times. Quite the story. I'd never even known about the cup until having read of it just recently.

2012 London Olympics
 - Olympic 800m Recap
 - Olympic 1500m Recap
 - Olympic 3000m Steeplechase Recap
 - Olympic 5000m Recap
 - Olympic 10,000m Recap
 - Olympic Marathon Recap
 - Week One: The Olympic Vortex

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