Sumgong makes marathon history for Kenya at the Rio Games
Jemima Sumgong made marathon history in Rio de Janeiro today as she became the first Kenyan woman ever to win an Olympic marathon title with her second victory in Series X of the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Sumgong became the first woman to have AbbottWMM victories at both London and the Olympics marathon.
Sumgong recovered from a fall to win the Virgin Money London Marathon in April, and this morning overcame punishing heat and the determined opposition of Bahrain's Eunice Kirwa and Ethiopia's world champion Mare Dibaba to take Olympic gold in 2:24:04 after an attritional race around the Rio seafront.
With two victories behind her, Sumgong now has a 25-point lead at the top of the Series X leaderboard with a maximum 50 points from two races.
Kirwa, who finished second in 2:24:13, leaps into equal fourth place with 16 points, while Dibaba also moves into contention for the half a million dollar prize as she goes joint sixth in the standings, taking nine points for third in 2:24:30.
Dibaba's compatriot Tirfi Tsegaye, a runner-up at this year's Boston Marathon, also picked up valuable points in fourth to go third overall, while Belarussian Volha Mazuronak added one point to her total and is now placed ninth.
Sumgong began the race as favorite following her impressive win in London four months ago, but Kenyan women have often started Olympic marathons with high expectations only to miss out on the sport's ultimate prize.
Having finished a close fourth at last year's World Championships, Sumgong had a point to prove in Rio and she did so with aplomb, edging clear of her former compatriot Kirwa in the final 3km of the race after the three medallists had broken away from a pack of seven after 35km.
It had been a hard, grinding race to that point along a flat, unshaded course with Sumgong always in the leading group but never in the lead.
Of the 157 athletes from 82 countries who set off from Rio's Sambodrome on the hottest morning of the Games, it was the big six names from Kenya and Ethiopia plus two Bahrainis who moved to the fore from the start.
These eight were joined by US threesome Desiree Linden, Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg as the runners made their way along the first of three tight 10km loops along the seafront of Guanabara Bay.
Sumgong's teammate Visiline Jepkesho led them through 10km in 34:22, the imposing site of Sugar Loaf Mountain standing resplendent in the background, before Japan's 2013 world bronze medallist Kayoko Fukushi and Mazuronak of Belarus swelled the leading group to 13.
Ethiopia's Tigist Tufa was the first major casualty, the 2015 London Marathon champion pulling up sharply at around 18km as Mazuronak took over at the front.
The head-scarfed Belarussian led them to the half way point in 1:12:56 and kept a steady tempo through 25km in 1:26:07, gradually shredding the group of Jepkesho, then Cragg, then Kenya's world silver medallist Helah Kiprop.
Sumgong was now the lone Kenyan alongside Kirwa and Rose Chelimo of Bahrain, with Tsegaye and Dibaba looking relaxed for Ethiopia, Flanagan biding her time for USA, and Mazuronak the sole European.
These seven approached the route's sharp turn for a final time, passing 30km in 1:43:21 with everything still to race for. Now it was Tsegaye's turn to press ahead as Flanagan held on at the rear of the pack.
Dibaba still looked frighteningly fresh and it was the world champion who passed 35km in 2:00:31 as they headed back into central Rio towards the twists and turns of the route's final stages.
It was there that Kirwa made the decisive move, the former Kenyan leaning into the corners and dragging Dibaba and Sumgong quickly clear of the rest. The three medallists were now decided, but who would claim the most glittering prize? At the Beijing World Championships last year it was Dibaba who won the battle with Kirwa third and Sumgong a close fourth. This time, Sumgong was determined not to miss out.
With less than 3km left she moved to the front for the first time, leading Kirwa away from Dibaba as they strode past 40km in 2:17:02 having run the fastest 5km of the race on the most ‘technical' section of the course.
Now it was down to two. Sumgong slowly opened a meter's gap on the long stretch back to the Sambodrome. One meter became two, then five, as Kirwa finally tired.
Now all Sumgong had to do was hold her form down the long straight run to the finish.
She did so superbly, crossing the line with arms aloft before sinking to her knees with relief and exhaustion.
Not only was her victory the first for a Kenyan woman in Olympic history, but it continues a remarkable sequence of 41 victories for African women in Abbott WMM races, stretching back to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October 2009. It was also the 50th victory by an African woman in the 63 AbbottWMM events since the Series began in 2006.
More importantly, it was a piece of priceless Olympic history for female runners from the world's leading marathon nation.