Sumgong makes history as first Kenyan woman to win top Olympic marathon medal on Day 10 of competition
Kenya‘s long wait for an Olympic gold in women marathon is now over.
London Marathon winner Jemimah Sumgong not only made history as the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic marathon, but also opened Kenya‘s gold medal account at the Rio Olympics with victory, yesterday.
Kenyan women have tried in past years to win an Olympic gold on the road, but the best they have achieved is a silver medal, with the last being Prisca Jeptoo who lost the battle for top spot to Ethiopian Tiki Gelana at the London Olympics four years ago.
Yesterday, an Ethiopian had also threatened to inflict more pain on Kenyans in their pursuit of that elusive gold medal, but Ms Sumgong, who won the London Marathon in April despite taking a fall in the last stages of the race, was not ready to give the Ethiopians another chance at Olympics glory.
Sumgong crossed the line in 2:24.04 as Kenyan-turned-Bahraini, Eunice Kirwa, battled her way to the finish line to pick silver for her adopted nation in 2:24:13 ahead of Ethiopia’s world champion Mare Dibaba who took the bronze in 2:24:30.
LAP OF HONOUR
Sumgong was elated after crossing the finish line and went down on her knees to give thanks for the victory. The joy got the better of her and she even ran back towards the course she had just come from as she received congratulations from a number of fans who kept cheering her for a job well done.
She even did not see the Kenyan flag that had been thrown her way by a Kenyan official in the crowd, but she then picked it up to do a lap of honour with it draped over her shoulders as other runners continued crossing the line.
“I am elated to have won this gold medal for Kenya and will talk more about it after relaxing and letting the moment sink that I have actually picked a gold medal at the Olympics,” Sumgong said.
It was, however, not an easy win for the athlete considering that she had to fight a solo battle after the two other Kenyans in the race, Visiline Jepkesho and Hellah Kiprop, dropped the pace even before crossing the 40km mark.
Ms Jepkesho, who had set the early pace, was the first to feel the heat as she dropped from the leading pack at the 22.3km mark after Belarussian Volha Mazuronak dared to take on the might of the East Africans as she took the lead.
However, at the 25km mark, another former Kenyan, Rose Chelimo, took the lead with the clock reading 1:26:07.
Ms Chelimo stepped up the pace and at the 27km mark, the race took its toll on Ms Kiprop, the 2015 World Championships silver medallist.
At the 35km mark, where most marathons across the world are normally won, Sumgong was the only Kenyan in the leading group, in the company of Bahrainis Chelimo and Kirwa, and Ethiopians Dibaba and Tirfi Tsegaye.
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USA’s Shalane Flanagan and Mazuronak also stuck with the leading group. The 35km mark was reached at 2:00:03 and Dibaba had by then taken the lead before Kirwa injected some pace and took Sumgong and Dibaba along with her.
At the 39.6km, Sumgong showed her intentions as she took the lead, with Kirwa and Dibaba in hot pursuit. At one point, she broke away with Dibaba hot on her heels, but Kirwa was not ready to give up and she caught up with them before the 40km mark.
Sumgong was still leading at the 40km mark with Kirwa closely behind her, and despite a number of spectators who tried to run across her path, she held on to win the gold medal for Kenya. Kirwa ensured the silver went to Bahrain as Dibaba bagged the bronze.
Sumgong has opened the Kenyan account and the battle rests on world champion Hyvin Kiyeng to lead another historic in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase race at 5:15pm before Olympics 800m champion David Rudisha runs in his specialty two-lap race.