London’s iconic landmarks and quickly changing weather were both on display in Sunday’s Olympic women’s marathon, which was won by Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana in an Olympic record 2:23:07. The field of 118 runners started the race in a light rain. After about an hour of competition, the sun appeared and steam rose off the streets, lined four and five deep with cheering spectators. By the time the 24-year-old Ethiopian hit the tape, more rain was falling, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the fans or Tiki Gelana, who grabbed an Ethiopian flag and did a ceremonial victory lap.
Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo won the silver medal (in 2:23:12), while Russia’s Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova won the bronze (in a personal best 2:23:29). Usually, the men’s and women’s Olympic marathons finish inside the main Olympic Stadium. But organizers broke with tradition and mapped a four loop course that took the runners past many of London’s notable tourist attractions. The race started and finished on the Mall, not far from Buckingham Palace.
Your trusty Olympic blogger was impressed with the huge crowds that turned out under less than ideal conditions. One of the athletes they cheered for was Romania’s Constantina Dita, the defending Olympic champion, who struggled Sunday and finished 86th overall, in 2:41:34, almost 15 minutes slower than her gold medal-winning time in Beijing four years ago.
The men’s Olympic marathon will be held on the same course August 12th, the final day of Olympic competition.
The Kenyan Olympic team held a moment of silence before coming to London for the late Sammy Wanjiru, the 2008 Olympic marathon champion who died last year at age 24 after falling off a balcony at his home.
While Kenya has produced many of the world’s greatest marathoners, Sunday’s victory by Tiki Gelana means a Kenyan woman still has not won an Olympic marathon title.