Team USA’s Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher of Portland, Ore. finished within 16 seconds of one another as they crossed the finish line in 10th and 11th place, respectively, in the Olympic women’s marathon during a rainy Sunday morning.
The race was won in an Olympic record of 2:23:07 by Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, who pulled ahead of runner-up Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya over the final half mile. Jeptoo finished in 2:23:12, with Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova of Russia taking third in 2:23:29.
Flanagan and Goucher positioned themselves at or near the front of the large lead pack from the start of the race, winding through the narrow, rain-soaked street of London.
Training partners in Portland, Ore., Goucher ran in a red cap, Flanagan in black, to fend off the rain. Running an even pace, they passed through 5km in 17:20 and 10km in 34:46 as more than 50 women ran together in a pack that stretched to 10 seconds from front to back. The leaders hit 15 km in 52:11, and at 17 km, 16 women remained within just 1 second of each other.
By the 25km mark, a lead pack of six started to pull ahead, with Flanagan running in 7th four seconds behind the leaders, and Goucher in 12th another two seconds back. Over the next two kilometers, Flanagan tried to regain contact with the pack, but by the 28 km mark, only five remained in the lead: Arkhipova, Gelana, Jeptoo and Mary Keitany and Edna Kipagat of Kenya with Dibaba of Ethiopia running just off the pack in 6th.
The race began in earnest after the 30km mark as the women began trading positions. Reigning world champion Kiplagat struggled to maintain the pace and fell off of the pack, only to rally and fall back again. Meanwhile, Flanagan ran without the assistance of a pack as she tried to close the gap on Kiplagat.
After 35 km Flanagan moved ahead of a fading Dibaba and Kiplagat, who ultimately fell back to finish 23rd and 20th, respectively. But as some of the favorites became casualties, two new women slipped into the mix with Xiaolin Zhu of China and Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko of Ukraine speeding past Flanagan.
In the final 2 km, as Flanagan began to tire, Valeria Straneo of Italy and Albina Mayorova of Russia moved past Flanagan, dropping her to tenth. Goucher began to close the gap on her training partner with the two ultimately finishing 16 seconds apart. Flanagan was 10th in 2:25:38 and Goucher 11th in 2:25:53.
Today’s race marked Flanagan’s third race at the 26.2 mile distance and her second-fastest time after her 2:25:38 U.S. Olympic Trials record this January. This was the sixth marathon of Goucher’s career and only one second off of the time she ran at the Olympic Trials.
American Desiree Davila (Rochester Hills, Mich.) dropped out with a hip injury after completing the initial 2.2 mile loop.
Shalane Flanagan: “There were some really tough spots. It was tough just to let people pass me, and I had no oomph to go with them. I tried to react, like in a track race, but it is really different for me in the marathon. You already have a lot of miles in your legs and it is so, so, so hard. I could feel myself cramping, but it is what it is. The fans were amazing; I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts. The fans were just deafening. It was a lot of fun besides cramping and feeling awful.
“I just was hoping I could chomp away and get closer, and I did at times, and I fell off at times. I was yo-yo-ing all over the place.
“One minute I was wearing my hat, the next minute I felt hot in it. But you know it was like Portland weather, I’m not fazed by it. It’s like home.
“Kara and I prepared our bodies and our minds the best we could, and we knew that on any given day we are both really good competitors and can run with the best. The ultimate goal was to get on the podium. This is my third marathon and I’m learning every time. I’ve got to make some mistakes to get to that level.”
Kara Goucher: “I’ve got to be honest, when I saw her [Shalane] with two miles to go, it actually broke my spirit. Because I thought one of us had a shot. People mess up, and I’ve trained so hard. I didn’t even know women trained the way that I’ve trained with Shalane. I didn’t know it existed. And I really thought that with the right window of opportunity, one of us could deliver and unfortunately it didn’t come to be.
“A championship race is just different. It was good for Shalane and I. We had no intention of leading and matching everyone else’s cadence, but we decided to stay up front because it was clean. Both times I tried to go back to the second and third row, I got pushed and grunted at and stepped on, so I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll go ahead and lead the Olympic marathon. I mean, I have no shot of winning this but I’ll lead as long as they let me.’
“I never really gave up. Every time I tried to press in that last lap, my back just hurt so bad. It was really frustrating. [The cramps] started in adductors of right calf and then it went to my back. I haven’t cramped since I ran the NYC Marathon. I honestly haven’t felt that kind of pain since I pushed out a baby. I’m serious. Shalane cramped very badly as well – same place, so we’re both a little confused and annoyed.
Desiree Davila: “Obviously I’m coming in a little beat up and injured, and this was the first day of really testing it out on solid ground, and you don’t know what you are going to get. I made it to 2.2 [miles] which is the first loop. I could tell on the first turn that it wasn’t going to be right today. You know, you can’t fake the marathon, and that is where we get our confidence, from training and knowing what it means and training hard. All of that has been missing by running on an Alter-G for basically the last month.
“I’ve been training for this race for the past three months, and I ran into a problem a month out. I’ve been training through pain and having ups and downs and highs and lows. I do feel like you have to cross the line to be an Olympian and to have that title. And I feel like I’ve earned that, obviously throughout my entire career, but the last month especially. I’ve put everything I’ve had in to getting here and hopefully getting the health and the fitness.
“That was one of the hardest things getting to the start knowing that there was a really good chance I would DNF, and I’ve never done that before. I don’t really know how to do that.”