Olympics / Summer Olympics / Track and field

Kipchoge captures marathon title; Lilesa makes statement

AP, Kyodo

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya smiled as he crossed the finish line and later directed cheering fans from the podium. The one color of Olympic medal he lacked in his illustrious career finally has been captured.

Kipchoge grabbed the lead in the marathon Sunday around the 35-km mark and finished off his first Olympic victory in this event in a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes and 44 seconds.

“I’ve won my Olympic gold medal,” Kipchoge said. “It was the Olympic gold medal that’s not (around) my neck.”

Kipchoge’s golden moment was overshadowed when the silver medalist, Feyisa Lilesa, who finished in 2:09:54, took the opportunity to support protests back in his native Ethiopia.

He crossed his wrists at the finish line, during the gift ceremony and again during the news conference in the symbol for the anti-government protests in Ethiopia

The nation has been marred by violence in recent weeks as government security forces have killed dozens of people amid protests over the nation’s decision to take over lands in the Oromia region. Protesters are calling for more freedom and an end of government brutality.

Having relatives in prison meant Lilesa could not stay quiet on the Olympic stage, no matter the consequences.

“If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me,” Lilesa said. “If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country.”

American Galen Rupp, running only his second marathon, added bronze to the silver he won in the 10,000 meters in London.

At the 15-km mark, 58 runners were within 10 seconds of the lead. Then runners started breaking away with Kipchoge, Rupp and Lilesa turning the marathon into a three-man race.

Rupp finished in 2:10:05 — 11 seconds behind Lilesa — for a bronze that is the first American medal in this event since Meb Keflezighi won silver in 2004.

Japan’s best finisher was Satoru Sasaki. The 30-year-old from Daisen, Tottori Prefecture, was the 16th to cross the line, 5:13 behind Kipchoge, and he was not happy.

“Finishing 16th isn’t satisfactory, I wanted to finish much higher but didn’t have the mental capacity when the pace increased,” he said.

“If I were asked if I had been able to give my best, my answer would be, ‘Not so much.’ “

Suehiro Ishikawa and Hisanori Kitajima, finished 36th and 94th, respectively.

“I had been talking big by saying I’d finish in the top eight, but even so, it was a dismal failure to finish near 40th,” Ishikawa said.

“I couldn’t cope with the change of pace, and that comes from my lack of ability.”

Such sentiments were shared by a downcast Japan coach Takeshi So, who said the squad is “lacking in every department.” He hinted at a potential revamping of Japan’s developmental system.

“If you can’t pick up the pace, it’s awfully hard (to compete),” he said. “I think the only way to deal with this is to bring in athletes who are fast and then build their stamina.”

The other Japanese runner in the race, comedian Hiroshi Neko, finished second to last.

Representing Cambodia and running under his real name, Kuniaki Takizaki, he finished in 139th, just over 37 minutes behind the winner.