The Unheralded Stephen Kiprotich Of Uganda Stuns The Field And Wins The 2012 Olympic Men's Marathon

Pre-Race Favorite Wilson Kipsang's Mid-Race 14:11 Surge Proves To Be Too Much For Himself To Handle As He Settles For Bronze; American Meb Keflezighi Storms From Behind To Finish Fourth

August 12, 2012
London, England

Editor's note: This is our race recap/analysis. After you read this, check out a separate article featuring extensive post race reaction and comments from the Americans and the medallists here: The Incredible Meb Keflezighi Reacts On Just Missing A Medal, Ryan Hall & Abdi Talk About Dropping Out.

Uganda's unheralded Stephen Kiprotich pulled one of the biggest upsets of the 2012 Olympics, as in dramatic fashion he upset Kenyans Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang, two of the favorites for gold, to capture the 2012 Olympic men's marathon in 2:08:01.

Stephen Kiprotich

Moments after being momentarily dropped by the two Kenyans, Kiprotich found a second wind and took the lead just before the 23-mile mark. It would be a lead he'd never relinquish, as the two-time world champion Kirui would end up second in 2:08:27 and the pre-race favorite in many people's minds (given his victory at the Virgin London marathon in April and his 2:03:42 personal best), Wilson Kipsang, held on for a much-deserved bronze in 2:09:27 after he had made a bold move for glory just 10km into the race.

The US's Meb Keflizighi, who won silver in 2004, made the most of his fitness on this day, as after a less-than-ideal buildup, he stormed to a fourth place finish in 2:11:06 after being just 17th at halfway (at halfway, he was in a pack that consisted of the 10th through 19th placed runners). Keflezighi was the only American to finish, as Ryan Hall had the first DNF of his career at the 10 mile mark after a problem with his right hamstring. The third American in the race, Abdi Abdirahman, would drop out a few moments later after a right knee problem of his own.

But the day belonged to the 23-year-old Kiprotich, who came into the race with a modest 2:07:20 personal best in his four career marathons and seemingly stunned himself with the win.

"Now, I am known, and I am happy that I am known," said Kirpotich, who is one of seven children and moved to Kenya to train at age 17, after the race. "What I was thinking before I started the race, I was thinking maybe Kenya would win, Ethiopia would win."

"When I crossed the line, that's when I believe it. Now I believe it," said Kiprotich, who must have believed it a little bit before that, as he had time to grab a Ugandan flag in the finishing stretch, which he carried with him to the finish line as he won Uganda's second-ever Olympic gold and first in 40 years. In 1972, John Akii-Bua won gold in the 400-meter hurdles and was prevented by a boycott from defending his title in 1976.

The Race

Heading into the 2012, one of the things many of the marathoners, including American Ryan Hall, were very much looking forward to were cooler conditions than what is normally found for an Olympic marathon. But today was the hottest day of the Olympic running action, as the weather was very much your standard stifling Olympic marathon weather. The race started with temps in the high 60s/low 70s and approached 80 degrees at the finish. The BBC broadcasters reported a 19 Celsius temp with 77 humidity early in the race, which is 66 Fahrenheit. Heathrow airport reported a temp at 11:00 am (start time) of 22 Celsius (71.6 Fahrenheit) and of 26 Celsius (78.8 Fahreinheit) at 1 pm.

As a result, the pace was modest early in the race. At 10k, Brazil's Franck de Almeida, who would end up 13th in 2:13:35, had the lead at 10km in 30:38, as the main pack of 35 guys was just behind in 30:46-49.  30:46 is 2:09:50 marathon pace. But already a couple of the big names were struggling, as the US's Ryan Hall and Ethiopia's Dino Sefir had been dropped by the lead pack (Hall reached 10km in 30:53 and Sefir got there in 30:56).

But suddenly the race was on, as in a move reminiscent of Sammy Wanjiru's breathtaking bold early running in Beijing four years ago, Kipsang went to the lead with a vengeance. In Beijing, Wanjiru raised eyebrows with a stunning 4:30 11th mile. Here, Kipsang ripped the third 5k in a crazy fast 14:11 - that's 4:33.9 pace or 1:59:42 marathon pace for 3.1 straight miles - to open up a 13-second lead on a chase pack of eight. The next 5k split was a much more reasonable 14:59 (which is 2:06:27 marathon pace), as Kipsang led by 14 seconds. Kipsang would soon go through halfway in 63:15 and he'd have the biggest lead of the day - 16 seconds - over the chase pack, which was down to six.

Kipsang ran the fifth 5km split in 15:01 but the chase pack, which was now down to to three - the two other eventual medallists and Ethiopia's Ayale Abshero, who had run 2:04:23 in Dubai - was just seven seconds back. The pack was going to catch Kipsang. The question was - how would he respond?

Stephen Kiprotich
Battling For Glory In London

Kipsang responded well when he was caught by Kirui and Kiprotich less than a mile later - some 1:20:15 into the race (26.5 kms approximately). Abshero was gone, but the leading trio would run side-by-side for the next 10.5 kms as the pace would slow. Kipsang's 6th 5km split was 15:17 (15:10 for the other two) and their seventh was 15:48. The pace had really slowed, but it was Kiprotich who soon began to struggle at the 35km mark (21.75 miles) as he fell off the lead pack and was seen slapping his left thigh with his left hand, trying to get himself going again.

Kipsang had had enough of the slowing pace and as Kiprotich struggled, Kipsang made a second bid for glory and took the lead. Kiprotich never fell too far behind, but most assumed his bid for gold was over as he ran 4 or 5 seconds behind.

But what was this? Just before the 23-mile mark, Kiprotich came storming back and he soon left both Kipsang and Kirui in his wake. Kirui responded best but he'd never make inroads on Kiprotich.

At 40km, Kiprotich led by 19 seconds after a 15:08 5km split. Kirui had picked it up to 15:18, but Kipsang had once again misjudged what he had in the tank as he'd only managed a 16:00. At the finish, Kiprotich was improbably the champion with a 26-second margin of victory.

For more on the medallists and Americans, see this article: The Incredible Meb Keflezighi Reacts On Just Missing A Medal, Ryan Hall & Abdi Talk About Dropping Out

Quick Take (QT) #1: Who the hell is Stephen Kiprotich, you ask?

Well, the 23-year-old, who has PRs of 13:23 and 27:58 on the track and was 5th in the 10,000 at the 2008 World Junior Champs, has run four career marathons. Last year, he ran his debut in and won in a national record of 2:07:20 in Enschede. Then he was 9th at Worlds in 2:12:57. This year, he'd run three races prior to the Olympic marathon. He finished third in the Tokyo marathon in 2:07:50, beating Haile Gebrselassie in the process in February. That race gave him a lot of confidence as shown by this profile of him in March, after which he said, "I believe I can beat the world's best. ItÂ’s just a question of time." In May, he was fourth in the Bupa Great Manchester 10km in 28:19 (Gebrselassie ran 27:39).

QT #2: Some have tried to make a lot of the fact that Kipsang had trouble with the water station at the 22km mark in the race, as he stopped and came back for his bottle and then was soon reeled in. But it's our opinion that had nothing to do with the outcome of this race, as it occurred 20km out from the finish. Kipsang came in as the favorite and left with the bronze because a human being simply isn't going to be able to maintain 14:11 pace early in any marathon - particularly one that is this hot.

Kiprotich ran a smarter race than Kipsang and was rewarded with the victory. Kiprotich's splits were 1:03:32 and 1:04:29.

To Kipsang's credit, while he said the aid station mishap hurt his rhythm, he was man enough to give Kiprotich all the credit he is due:

"He was the better athlete today and that's why he won," Kipsang said.

QT #3: Meb Keflezighi moved up well late in the race to finish fourth after splits of 1:04:30, 1:06:36. Meb was just 10th at 30km (running in a pack that consisted of the 7th through the 14th placers) and sixth with 5km left, but kept things together very well over the final 12.2 kms to move up to fourth as a lot of people really struggled in the heat at the end. Meb ran the 10km from 30 to 40km in 31:54 (15:59 from 30 to 35km and 15:55 from 35km to 40km), which wasn't that much slower than what the bronze medallist ran (31:48). That 10km split for Meb was at 2:14:37 marathon pace - everyone else was just running way slower at the end.

Meb's split from 30km to finish was 18:49 and was actually faster than the bronze medallist's of 19:22.

Meb, whom everyone knew before the race had enjoyed less than an ideal buildup for this marathon, elaborated a bit on his training after the race. Chris Lotsbom of Race Results Weekly wrote that "Keflezighi told reporters his training prior to the marathon didn't go all that well, only having four weeks over 100 miles, with his longest tempo run having been 12 miles."

Meb was obviously thrilled to have finished fourth.

"I told coach 'If I could have two more weeks then I could run 2:07 or faster.'"

QT #4: After the race, Ryan Hall told IAAF interviewers: "It was my right hamstring. I do not know if it was tendonitis or something like that. It got progressively tighter as the race went on. I do not want to turn it into a serious injury. I have never had a DNF [did not finish] in a race before. Not finishing a race is not an option unless you are running the risk of damaging your future." More on Hall here.

QT #5: The 4-time Olympian Abdirahman was also disappointed he couldn't finish:
"It was the hardest thing to do. At the same time I didn't want to push hard and I didn't want to take the risk because of the pain I was feeling in my leg. The best thing was to shut it down and drop out."

Editor's Note: Some reporting from the Race Results Weekly recap of this race was used in this report.

PHOTO: The first photo of Stephen Kiprotich giving thanks after winning the 2012 Olympic Marathon title in London was courtesy of Race Results Weekly's Jane Monti.

Post-race reaction and comments from the Americans and the medallists are in a separate article here: The Incredible Meb Keflezighi Reacts On Just Missing A Medal, Ryan Hall & Abdi Talk About Dropping Out

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