London 2012: Kiprotich shocks Kenyans to claim Uganda's first marathon gold

The men's marathon podium finishers at London 2012 / Photo: Locog

Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich produced one of the biggest shocks of the London 2012 Olympic Games to win the men's marathon on The Mall on Sunday, claiming Uganda's first athletics gold for 40 years and beating a field containing the world champion, two London marathon winners and the second fastest marathon runner of all time.

Kenyans and Ethiopians fill the first 29 places on the 2012 world marathon list, and Kiprotich's name hardly merited a mention in the pre-event predictions, but the 23-year-old, who left school at 17 before moving to Kenya to concentrate on running, was rewarded for his sacrifice with the ultimate prize when he powered away from Kenyans Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich and Abel Kirui in the last five kilometres of a gruelling race to cross the finish line on The Mall in two hours, eight minutes and one second.

Kirui, the two-time world marathon champion, failed to add the Olympic crown to his collection of titles by 26 seconds as he took silver in 2:08.27, while Kipsang Kiprotich, the 2012 London marathon champion, held on for third in 2:09.37 after an early bid for glory foundered on the streets of central London.

Kiprotich enjoyed his sunshine moment in front of some of the biggest crowds ever seen at an Olympic marathon.

The sixth of seven children, he moved from Uganda to train with Kenya's former world 5,000m champion Eliud Kipchoge in Eldoret, in the Rift Valley, and it was a devastating last 5,000m that brought him victory after the three medallists had run together from the 30km point.

Only 400m hurdler John Akii-Bua in Munich 1972 has ever won an athletics gold for Uganda before, while the East African country's last Olympic medal was in Atlanta 1996 when Davis Kamoga took a bronze medal at 400m.

After the race, Kiprotich said: "Now I am 'known', so I am happy I am now a known athlete."

"I was expecting rain. The conditions were hot and humid but they were the same for everyone. Determination is what matters."

"I would like to send a message to the Ugandan Athletics Federation and the Minister of Sport - consider us athletes in Uganda. We need more facilities."

"The problem in Uganda is that we do not have the facilities. It is that which pushed me to Kenya."

"When the race started I thought the Kenyans would win. I kept in touch and then I thought, 'Let me move', so I moved. When we came to within three miles, then I started to go on strongly," he added.

How the race unfolded

In scenes of complete contrast to the rain-drenched women's marathon seven days ago, a field of 105 runners set off from The Mall in warm, bright sunshine and made their way past huge crowds 25 deep around the edge of Trafalgar Square. People lined the roads down Northumberland Avenue and along the Embankment.

They were also massed on Hungerford Bridge near Charing Cross station to get a view, and around Westminster Bridge, Parliament Square and Birdcage Walk.

After the first shorter loop around St James' Park, a large bunch of runners passed Buckingham Palace and headed back down to The Mall to begin the first of three 12.875km (eight mile) circuits that skirted the River Thames and twisted through the streets of central London around St Paul's Cathedral and the City.

The organisers had designed the course to show off London at its best, and they could not have wished for better conditions for the finale of the London 2012 athletics programme.

It wasn't long before Kenyan runners appeared at the front. Just four months ago, Kipsang had been striding along this stretch of road in the opposite direction to win the London Marathon in a course record 2:04.44. Now, he headed east at the front of a group of some 40 runners.

Kipsang cantered past the 5km mark in 15 minutes 23 seconds, an easy two-hour, 10-minute pace for the leading runners.

The first break came shortly afterwards when a dozen men skittered away from the rest through Paternoster Square and past the Guildhall. Athens 2004 silver medallist Mebrahtom Keflezighi (USA), wearing a white cap, briefly made the pace at the front alongside Eritrean Yared Asmerom.

Brazil's Franck De Almeida then opened a 30-metre gap as they passed the Bank of England for the first time and strode under the ornate roof of Leadenhall Market.

The chasing group contained three Kenyans and two of a trio of young, fast Ethiopians who had been expected to challenge for medals. However, Dino Sefir (ETH), second in the Dubai marathon, had already dropped back by the time De Almeida went past the 10km mark in 30:38, and he eventually dropped out.

Kipsang eased away from the pack one kilometre later, building a lead of 10 metres over Ayele Abshero (ETH), the 2012 world leader, that soon stretched to 20m as he headed back along Victoria Embankment. Such a strike had been expected from the fastest man in the field, but not this early.

By the time Kipsang crossed the start line again he was running a steady 16 seconds in front of the chasers.

It was a bold move to go so fast so soon, but Kipsang had gone too early. He passed 20km in just under an hour (59:57), that 5km section taking 14:59, and half way in 63:15 as his lead dropped from 21 seconds to 16.

Now the chasing group cracked as Kirui and Kiprotich made a bid to haul in the leader. By 25km (1:14.58), the gap was down to seven seconds and they caught Kipsang at a drinks station between 26 and 27km.

The three then completed the second long loop running side-by-side, with Abshero 18 seconds back.

The names of the medallists were settled, but the order was still very much up for grabs. As they headed east for the last time, the two Kenyans began to work together, consistently staying a step or two ahead of the Ugandan, who was operating at close to his personal best pace.

The Kenyans opened a lead as they zig-zagged through Leadenhall Market for the third time before Kipsang made his second surge of the race around the U-turn next to the Tower of London. Kirui responded and, briefly, Kiprotich seemed a spent force.

However, the Ugandan was toying with his rivals. As the route turned a sharp right corner, just before London Bridge, Kiprotich surged from third to first and powered away. Kirui gave chase as Kipsang's early effort finally began to take its toll.

The rejuvenated Kiprotich strode down White Lion Street and onto the Embankment for the long 4km stretch back to Westminster. This is where the London Marathon is usually won and lost and Kiprotich was enjoying every moment, smiling and holding his finger up to the crowd, even winking at the camera.

The man who finished ninth in the 2011 world championship marathon in Daegu, Korea, was now an Olympic champion. He glanced back two or three times but Kirui was making to no impact on his lead.

Bathed in hot sun, Kiprotich turned the corner by Buckingham Palace one last time and bounced down The Mall. Grabbing the Ugandan flag from the side of the road, he held it aloft above his head as he crossed the line.

Kirui charged in behind him, completing another great run from the double world champion, while Kipsang gained some reward for his earlier bravery by claiming the bronze medal.

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