Tiki Gelana Breaks Olympic Marathon Record

Americans Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher finish 10th and 11th, respectively.

Americans Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher finish 10th and 11th, respectively. Kenyan Ezekiel Kemboi wins men’s steeplechase final. 

Heavy rain and wet roads greeted the 108 starters of the women’s Olympic Marathon at London’s historic Mall on Sunday morning, but by the race’s end in the early afternoon, it was 24-year old Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia who stormed the field in Olympic-record time.

Running massive negative splits of 1:13:13 and 1:09:54 for the race’s first and second halves, Gelana broke the tape in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 7 seconds to best Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo by 5 seconds, both breaking the previous mark of 2:23:14 set by Naoko Takahashi of Japan at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Russia’s Tatyana Petrova grabbed bronze in 2:23:29, a personal best.

“I really loved it,” an elated Gelana said of the rain. “As soon as the rain started, I said to myself, “thank God”. I love running in the rain.”

A large group of around 20 runners were bunched together through a strategic first 13.1 miles on the turning, criterium-style course, which started at The Mall outside of Buckingham Palace and passed by St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London.

Gelana, Jeptoo, Petrova and eventual fourth-place finisher Mary Keitany of Kenya began to string out the pace over the race’s second half, opening up a small gap on the rest of the field that would only continue to grow. Two chase packs, which included Americans Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, were never in contention over the final 10K as the Gelana, Jeptoo and Petrova pulled away from Keitany, the London Marathon winner this past April.

Heading back toward The Mall for the final time, Gelana turned on the afterburners, pulling away from Jeptoo, who had opened had a sizeable gap on Patrova. Gelana raised her index finger in triumph as she broke the tape, giving Ethiopia their second distance gold medal of these Games thus far, adding to Tirunesh Dibaba’s 10,000m win on Friday night.

Flanagan was the top American finisher in tenth place, running 2:25:51, while Goucher was right behind her in 11th, posting a time of 2:26:07. Desiree Davila, who finished second to Flanagan at January’s U.S. Marathon Trials in Houston, dropped out at 5K  due to a hip injury.

Men’s Steeplechase Final

Kenyan Ezekiel Kemboi, the reigning world champion in the steeplechase, left no doubt that he’s the best long-distance hurdler on the planet, employing a hard surge with 300 meters remaining that no one could match to win in 8:18.56. Kemboi separated himself convincingly over the final circuit and celebrated down the finishing straight, drifting into lane 9 to finish half a second up on Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who captured a second straight Olympic silver medal. Kenyan Abel Mutai was third in 8:19.73, while defending Olympic champion Benjamin Kipruto, also of Kenya, fell with 700 meters remaining and finished fifth in 8:23.03.

Evan Jager, the U.S. Olympic Trials champion and recently-minted American record holder, finished a solid sixth in 8:23.87. Jager, who along with fellow American Donn Cabral (8th, 8:25.91) led for the early part of the race, was in contention with a lap to go but couldn’t match Kemboi’s hard move.

After the race, Kemboi celebrated in his typical fashion, taking his singlet off (which he later exchanged with Mekhissi-Benabbad) and dancing for the crowd.