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Ethiopian Gelana Sets Olympic Record in Women’s Marathon

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  (L-R) Mary Jepko...

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 05: (L-R) Mary Jepkosgei Keitany of Kenya, Edna Ngeringwony Kiplagat of Kenya, Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia, Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya, Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova of Russia compete during the Women’s Marathon on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 5, 2012 in London, England. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

With a steady rain coming down and her bright green kit completely drenched, Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana prevailed through less than ideal conditions to set a new Olympic record in the Women’s Marathon here today by running 2:23:07.

Breaking from Priscah Jeptoo, Tatyana Arkhipova (formerly Petrova), and Mary Keitany in the final kilometers to take the win, the 24-year-old Gelana shaved seven seconds from Naoko Takahashi‘s 2000 Olympic Record of 2:23:14 en route to earning her first World Marathon Majors victory.

“It’s like a dream come true, it’s like a dream almost, as an Ethiopian. I can’t really express it right now, I’m over the moon,” said Gelana Ethiopia’s first Women’s Olympic Marathon champion since 1996 when Fatuma Roba won gold in Atlanta.

Despite falling at a fluid station in the middle stages of the race, Gelana recovered nicely to run more than a three-minute negative split, clocking 1:13:13 for the first half and 1:09:54 for the second.

“I was confident before the race that I could win it. I have been saving my energy for this. It really paid off. I don’t know what to say. I am speechless,” she said.

With downpours from the time the 118 starters left St. James’s Park, many were hesitant to push the pace knowing the conditions and tough course that lay ahead. With more than 90 turns, the Olympic Marathon course was predicted to be one of the most tactical in history, the rhythm-busting turns forcing competitors to slow down around the slick corners.

Not planning to take the lead early, Americans Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher soon found themselves at the front of the large pack, taking turns with others to set an honest pace.

“Our goal was to stay in the back and match all moves, but it was slow and so bunched that I just felt like this is a pace I can hold all day and I know it was a pace she could hold all day,” said Goucher, who was running in her second Olympic Games. “It was not either of our intention but I think it was the right call because we were able to survive a lot longer with clean running.”

At halfway, hit in 1:13:13, more than 20 women were within five seconds of the lead, a bunched group splashing through the streets, passing historic landmarks like Big Ben and even running through Leadenhall Market. Notably missing from the pack were Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova, the two-time World Marathon Majors points champion who pulled up around 22 kilometers favoring her right hamstring. American Desiree Davila, who had struggled with a hip flexor problem of her own over the preceding weeks, dropped out within the first five kilometers. She was visibly limping from the start.

After the pace began to quicken, the Kenyan trio of Jeptoo, Keitany, and IAAF World Championship marathon winner Edna Kiplagat made their way to the front. Working together, the three would grab each other’s fluids at aid stations and run stride for stride with their East African counterparts: Ethiopians Gelana and Mare Dibaba. Russia’s Arkhipova would fall off the lead pack only to return and push the pace on and off in the final ten kilometers.

At one of the final fluid stations, Jeptoo grabbed a pair of water bottles, handing one to the 30-year-old Keitany like she had earlier in the race. Immediately, Keitany threw it down as if to say ‘it’s time to work alone now.’

With close to a mile to go, Keitany glanced at her watch while Jeptoo looked at her fellow competitors, sizing up what Gelana and Petrova Arkhipova had left in the tank. Meters later Keitany was off the back due to a side stitch.

Gelana continued on, grinding away and ultimately leading down the final straight towards the finish on The Mall. Breaking the tape in 2:23:07, Gelana became the second women from Ethiopia to win an Olympic Marathon medal.

“Fatuma [Roba] is my hero. I am extremely happy to share history with her. This gold medal is a gift for all Ethiopians,” she said.

Five seconds behind, Jeptoo finished in 2:23:12, while Arkhipova rounded out the top three in 2:23:29, a new personal best.

“For me and for my country this medal is of great importance. I’ve been waiting for this medal for a long tim,” said Arkhipova, a former steeplechaser. The Russian even added some humor, saying her steeplechase experience (she was the 2007 3000m steeplechase world championships silver medalist) helped her jump the puddles today.

Americans Flanagan and Goucher finished in tenth and eleventh, respectively, timing 2:25:51 and 2:26:07. Both said the course took a toll on their bodies.

“I had hoped the last five miles would be my place to make a move. But the course, it killed me. I’m going to be honest, I’m cramping really bad right now, my calf and my back. I thought it would be an advantage to me but instead it bit me in the butt. My body hurts so bad right now I know I did everything I could do,” said Goucher.

Added Flanagan: “The weather and the course, it was brutal. But in the end of the day it was a great experience. The fans were deafening.”

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