SAPPORO (AFP, REUTERS) - Eliud Kipchoge became only the third man to win consecutive marathon golds at the Olympics on Sunday (Aug 8), as he got the 16th and final day of full competition at the Tokyo Games off to an early and electric start.
The Kenyan put in a commanding performance under challenging circumstances in Sapporo to cover the 42.195km in 2hr 8min 38sec and cement his place among the all-time greats of the sport.
Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands took the silver and Belgium’s Bashir Abdi claimed the bronze.
Kipchoge’s winning margin of 1min 20sec was the biggest since Frank Shorter’s win in the 1972 Munich Games.
“I was really happy, I can’t describe it,” Kipchoge said of his feelings as he crossed the finish line holding up two fingers to signify his two golds.
“I think I fulfilled the legacy by winning the marathon for the second time. That’s my total happiness, my inspiration for the next generation.”
He also expressed his appreciation that organisers could make the Olympics happen as the world continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It was really hard last year, it (Olympic Games) was postponed. I am happy for the local organising committee who made this race happen. It is a sign that shows the world we are heading in the right direction – we are on the right transition to a normal life," he said.
“Congratulations to them... they made this Olympics happen... It means a lot to me.”
The 36-year-old’s victory was his 13th win in the 15 marathons he has raced since 2013.
He joins Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila (1960 and 1964) and East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski (1976 and 1980) as the only runners to win back-to-back gold medals on the Olympic stage.
The world record holder has now won four Olympic medals overall, having also taken silver in 2008 and bronze in 2004 in the 5,000m.
Kipchoge showed why he was the man to beat going into Sunday’s race when he took full control as he pushed ahead of the pack after the 30km mark.
By the 35km stage, he had jumped out to a lead of 27 seconds from a virtual tie 5km earlier and extended it to 1:17 by 40km.
Kipchoge, who in 2019 became the first man to break the two-hour barrier for the marathon in a specially-arranged race that does not count for record purposes, had been aiming for the gold to shore up his status as the greatest marathon runner of all time.
"My real excitement in Tokyo is no longer about competing at an Olympic Games, it is about making a legacy," he told the Olympics official website before the race.
Unlike in Tokyo, where stringent Covid-19 restrictions have forced the Games to be held behind closed doors, thousands of spectators lined the streets of Sapporo, the host city of the 1972 Winter Olympics that lies more than 800km north of the capital.
The organisers’ decision to move the race to the city, however, has backfired, with unseasonally hot and humid temperatures there making for gruelling conditions for the runners.
Sunday’s race saw 106 runners representing 45 countries and the Olympic Refugee Team set off from the Odori Park in the heart of Sapporo in temperatures of around 27 deg C and a stamina-sapping 80 per cent humidity.
Several of the major names dropped out amid the humid and windy conditions.
World champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, compatriot and 2020 London Marathon winner Shura Kitata, 2012 Olympic gold medallist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda and Kenya’s Amos Kipruto were among 29 runners who exited the race early.
“The weather was better than the last few days but still, it’s humid and it’s a strange feeling, you think it’s cold but at the same time you lose water very quickly and that’s why I got a cramp,” said bronze-medal winner Abdi, who had to fight through a cramp in his right hamstring near the end of the race.