Jemima Sumgong has come a long, long way. Her victories in New York and London, now pale in comparison to her battle in Rio. A fight from the start, Jemima gutted it out on a very warm day in the Rio winter.
Here is Justin Lagat’s story about this exceptional athlete winning this amazing race. Oh, and glad to see our friend, Frederico Rosa, in Rio.
Jemima Sumgong wins an historic marathon gold medal for Kenya on the third day of athletics in Rio
Finally, Kenyans got to celebrate their first gold medal in Rio when Sumgong fought hard to emerge as the winner of the Olympic women marathon race that was run in tough weather conditions. Not only was this the first gold medal for Kenya in Rio; it was the first ever Olympic marathon gold medal to be won by a Kenyan woman in the history of the Olympic Games and Sumgong worked hard to earn it.
Even watching the race on a TV screen from a country far away from Brazil, one could tell that the weather conditions during the race were warm. There was no cloud cover and it was bound to be a very tough race for the runners. Most runners had white caps on while others had their sunglasses on.
The race started out conservatively and even after the first five kilometers, which was crossed in 17:23, there was still no clear pack of leaders as there was hardly any gap among almost all the first forty athletes. It was not until the runners approached the 10KM point when a pack of thirteen athletes separated from the rest. They were three Kenyans, three Ethiopians, three Americans, two Bahrainis and two North Koreans.
Visiline Jepkesho, who had been doing much of the pacing earlier on in the race, was the first Kenya to drop from the leading pack at around the 22 kilometers. This was after Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa had had to pull out apparently due to a calf injury. Another Kenyan, Helah Kiprop also started to struggle and fade at around 28K leaving Jemima Sumgong as the only remaining medal hopeful from Kenya.
With only three athletes remaining in the leading pack at around forty kilometers, Sumgong pushed the pace a bit and was able to open some little gap before relaxing again and letting the other two athletes close the gap. It was hard to tell what was going on in her mind. Could she have been testing her competitors to check if any of them still had some more energy for a competitive finish? Or, did her efforts to break away from them fail?
Mare Dibaba was the first to drop from the leaders as Eunice Kirwa kept following Sumgong’s footsteps closely from behind as though waiting to unleash a finishing kick as the two approached the finish line. At that point, the battle for the gold medal was clearly between the two athletes, which was quite a relief to Kenyans knowing that the worst they could get was a silver medal and the other option was gold.
However, a gap started to open up between the two runners and the victory was almost as good as sealed. There was no need for a finishing kick as exhausted and jubilant Sumgong cut the tape in 2:24.04 and celebrations erupted across Kenya; more so in Eldoret town where a huge screen has been erected in the middle of the town for the locals to watch the Olympics. Kirwa followed to take silver as Dibaba settled for the bronze medal.