LONDON – Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana broke Naoko Takahashi’s Olympic record to upset the Kenyan runners and win the women’s marathon in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 7 seconds Sunday.
It was another dour Olympics for Japanese women’s marathoners as Ryoko Kizaki was the highest finisher in 16th with a 2:27:16. Yoshimi Ozaki — who was in the lead at the 15-km point before fading — followed at 19th with a 2:27:43, and Risa Shigetomo was 79th at 2:40:06.
Japan’s best finish at the last Olympics in Beijing was 13th by Yurika Nakamura. Then-defending champion Mizuki Noguchi withdrew ahead of the games, and Reiko Tosa retired mid-race.
Gelana, who took 7 seconds off the old mark set by Takahashi at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, just came out ahead of Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo in a heated finish to a race that started and ended with rain falling in London.
The 24-year-old Gelana took the gold only 5 seconds ahead of Jeptoo. Russia’s Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova took bronze a further 17 seconds behind.
Kizaki was never in the race, and admitted she was out of her depth.
“I do feel a sense of accomplishment but the disappointment has started to sink in,” said Kizaki, who won the Yokohama Women’s Marathon in November to qualify for London.
“I was hoping to use the downhill to pick up the pace but I couldn’t adjust. I now know the training I’ve been doing wasn’t good enough. I hope to learn from this experience.”
Takahashi, who watched the race from London as a TV analyst, said the results were nothing short of disappointing.
“It really is sad,” Takahashi said. “The Kenyans and Ethiopians were the favorites, but it would’ve been nice to see us at least compete.
“Personally, I think people aren’t training enough because everyone’s so concerned with running faster. Since Beijing, it seems like everyone’s too afraid of getting hurt and are pushing themselves less and less.”
It was the second long-distance battle the Ethiopians won over the Kenyans at these games, and just as Tirunesh Dibaba made her finishing kick count in the 10,000-meters on the track, Gelana left it until late to kick for the line.
Gelana found time to blow a kiss before crossing the finish line with her arms aloft and falling to the wet, red tarmac, exhausted.
“As soon as the rain started, I said to myself ‘Thank God’. I love running in the rain, I have been doing that since I was a small child,” Gelana said.
The Kenyans instead were ill-prepared for the downpours, including Mary Keitany, who has won the London Marathon twice over the last three years to establish herself as a big favorite.
“I never competed in this type of rain,” Keitany said, “not even in training.”
The Olympic marathon hasn’t been run in conditions like this in recent games — instead of dealing with puddles, racers had to handle extreme heat in places like Beijing and Athens.
Much like the 10,000 on Friday night, the final stages of the marathon quickly turned into an East African battle with three Kenyans and two Ethiopians bunched together with a dozen km to go.
The Kenyans won their first gold in track later Sunday when Ezekiel Kemboi won the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, eight years after winning at the Athens Olympics.
The only other Ethiopian woman to win at the Olympics was Fatuma Roba at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“Fatuma is my hero,” Gelana said. “I am extremely happy to share history with her. This gold medal is a gift for all Ethiopians.”