LONDON (AP) — A runner named Kiprotich winning the Olympic marathon? Hardly a surprise.
That he was the one from Uganda and not Kenya? Major surprise.
Stephen Kiprotich rounded a corner with three miles left and simply took off, turning the last mile into a victory lap as he easily captured the marathon Sunday, along with the first medal for Uganda at the London Games.
“People didn’t expect Uganda. They thought Kenya, Ethiopia,” Kiprotich said. “Being unknown, now I’m known.”
Kiprotich won in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 1 second as he pulled away from the Kenyan duo of Abel Kirui and Wilson Kiprotich Kipsang, who was the “Kiprotich” favored in this race. Kirui ended up with the silver while Kipsang held on for bronze just ahead of American Meb Keflezighi.
On a warm afternoon, the marathoners wound their way through a scenic route packed with swarms of fans, breezing past Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge and the Tower of London before finishing near Buckingham Palace.
And by the time he neared the finish line, Stephen Kiprotich had such a commanding lead that he grabbed a flag from the stands and wore it on his way to gold.
After finishing, he dropped to his knees, bowed and then raised his hands high over his head.
A moment to cherish because these haven’t happened all that often for Uganda. This was the country’s seventh Olympic medal in any sport and second gold. John Akii-Bua, a 400-meter hurdler, won the other gold 40 years ago in Munich.
“I made history with my people,” Kiprotich said. “They didn’t expect me to win. I was keeping behind them, keeping the fire burning. When they go, they thought they’d left me, but I was there.
“I kept in touch. Later, I said, ‘I believe in myself.’ Then, I made my move.”
The Kenyans, who were looking at a possible podium sweep, just couldn’t keep up. Kirui & Co. were competing in memory of the late Sammy Wanjiru, who won the country’s first Olympic marathon four years ago in Beijing. Wanjiru died last year after a fall from a second-story balcony during a domestic dispute.
“In my mind, I was thinking Kiprotich is fading away. In my mind, I was thinking gold is for me,” Kirui said. “To my friend Kiprotich, congratulations. He was the best today, that is why he won. For us, we don’t really feel bad that he won.”
For the Ethiopians, this was a race the runners would rather forget. All three failed to finish the twisting and turning course.
Kipsang was seemingly in control early in the day. He was out front and running all alone, before fading back to the pack. Kirui caught up with him while Kiprotich followed just behind.
At the 23-mile mark, Kiprotich turned the corner and was gone. A surprise surge for a surprise winner on a day when the weather was ideal — at least for the spectators.
It was bright and sunny but grew hot, especially late in the race — quite a contrast to the women’s race last Sunday that began in a steady downpour.
While other runners wore the colors of their countries, Guor Marial donned a predominantly gray and black uniform with “I.O.A.” printed on it. He wound up 47th, 11:31 behind the winning time.
Marial competed as an independent runner under the banner of the International Olympic Committee after fleeing a refugee camp in what is now South Sudan during a civil war more than a decade ago.
The 28-year-old landed in the United States, seeking asylum. The IOC cleared him last month to compete in the Olympics as an independent athlete after he didn’t qualify for Sudan, South Sudan or the United States under its rules.
Marial had run only two marathons in his life, but finished both in Olympic times. His second was just two months ago in San Diego.
“I was not able to get them a medal today, but the finish was the most important,” Marial said. “I felt like the world was watching.”
Within seconds of each other, U.S. marathoners Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman were out of the Olympic race.
First, Hall dropped out around the 11-mile mark with a tight right hamstring. Then, Abdirahman called it a day because of an aching right knee.
“I felt like I was favoring my stride and didn’t want to get injured,” said Hall, who lives in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Keflezighi, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., used a strong finish to make up ground and finish fourth. He was motivated by a grudge.
Before the race, a few of the runners were introduced, but not Keflezighi. He felt insulted since he won a silver medal in Athens eight years ago.
“To not be introduced like that, it hurts,” he said.