• AFP-JIJI, KYODO

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Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge underlined his credentials as the undisputed king of the marathon with a totally dominant run to retain his Olympic title on the streets of Sapporo on Sunday.

The world record holder clocked 2:08:38 to win gold, becoming only the third man to win consecutive marathon titles.

Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands claimed silver in 2:09:58, just ahead of Belgium's Bashir Abdi in bronze, Japan's Suguru Osako finished sixth.

Kipchoge's winning margin of 1:20 was the biggest since Frank Shorter's win in the 1972 Munich Games.

The 36-year-old's victory, his 13th win in the 15 marathons he has raced since 2013, came a day after teammate Peres Jepchirchir secured back-to-back women's Olympic marathon titles for Kenya's women.

"I think I have fulfilled the legacy by winning the marathon for the second time, back-to-back. I hope now to help inspire the next generation," Kipchoge said.

"It means a lot for me, especially at this time," he added of winning his second gold medal.

"It was really hard last year, it (Olympic Games) was postponed. I am happy for the local organizing committee who made this race happen. It is a sign that shows the world we are heading in the right direction — we are on the right transition to a normal life.

"Congratulations to them that they made this Olympics happen."

Japan's Suguru Osako takes part in the Olympic men's marathon at Sapporo's Odori Park on Sunday. Osako finished sixth. | REUTERS
Japan’s Suguru Osako takes part in the Olympic men’s marathon at Sapporo’s Odori Park on Sunday. Osako finished sixth. | REUTERS

Home favorite Osako, who was chasing the silver and bronze pack, fell to eighth at one point but he was able to surpass two runners to finish sixth in a season-best 2:10:41.

Though still only 30 years old, the former Japanese marathon record holder has said he will retire from professional running after the marathon in Tokyo.

Elsewhere for Japan, Shogo Nakamura and Yuma Hattori finished 62nd and 73rd, respectively, among the 76 runners who completed the race. Thirty runners did not finish, including London Olympics gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda and all three Ethiopians.

Unlike in Tokyo, where stringent COVID-19 restrictions have forced the Games to be held behind closed doors, thousands of spectators lined the streets of Sapporo, the host city of the 1972 Winter Olympics that lies more than 800 kilometers north of the capital.

The organizers' decision to move the race to the city, however, backfired, with unseasonably hot and humid temperatures there making for grueling conditions for the runners.

Sunday's race saw 106 runners representing 45 countries and the Olympic Refugee Team set off from the Odori Park in the heart of Sapporo in temperatures of around 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) and a stamina-sapping 80% humidity.

A large lead group of about 50 runners, including Kipchoge, defending world champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Rio bronze medalist Galen Rupp of the United States went through 10 km in 30:53

Kipchoge had teammates Lawrence Cherono and Amos Kipruto beside him as running partners.

Two early casualties of note were Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich, who was gold medalist at the 2012 London Games, and a world champion in Moscow a year later, and Ethiopian Shura Kitata Tola, winner of last year's London Marathon in which Kipchoge finished eighth in just his second blip in his marathon-racing career.

Daniel do Nascimento of Brazil, a 2:10 marathon runner, also dropped out with cramp, as Kipchoge led an 11-strong group through the 1:30 mark.

The Kenyan then kicked away on a solo breakaway as the pack split further, opening up a 27-second lead through 35 kilometers (1:46.59).

Cherono, Ayad Lamdassem of Spain, Abdi and fellow Somali-born Nageeye were left battling among themselves in the chasing pack, as 30 of the field failed to finish.

"I wanted to create a space to show the world that this is a beautiful race," Kipchoge said of his surge away from the pack.

"I wanted to test my fitness, I wanted to test how I'm feeling. I wanted to show that we have hope in the future."

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