NAIROBI, Kenya, August 12- Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich hammered in the last nail to kill Kenya’s hopes of a final flourish at London 2012 Olympics when he forced world champion Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang to accept the minor podium positions in the men’s marathon on Sunday.
It was a stunning victory for the 23-year-old Ugandan who took off from the more illustrious Kenyans at the 37km mark and charged to the top medal in 2:08:01 as Kirui took silver in 2:08:27 with Kipsang, who led the race for most of the 42km held on for the bronze in 2:09:37.
The third Kenyan in the race and London Marathon course record holder, Emmanuel Mutai, faded off the pace early on and arrived at the finish 17th in 2:14.49 as the country ceded their fourth Olympics title from Beijing on the last event of the athletics programme of London 2012.
The final tally thus reads 2 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze is a far cry from the 6 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze that propelled Kenya to top of the African charts in Beijing four years ago as Kiprotich majestically succeeded the late Samuel Wanjiru as the ultimate distance Olympics king.
Mutai and Kipsang, the past two winners of the London marathon, hit the lead three kilometres from the start, with the former leading through the opening 5Km in 15.23 with South Africa’s Stephen Makoka, Kiprotich, Kirui and Eritrea’s Yared Asmerom among the leading pack of 14.
It did not take long for Kipsang, who came four second short of matching the 2:03:38 world record in Frankfurt last fall, to shift through the gears after the next 5km were crossed in 30:38 as he led the race through 15km (44:58), 20km (59.57), Half (1:03:15), 25km (1:14:58) but began tiring as they approached 30km.
Kirui joined his compatriot and led at that point in 1:30:15 with Kiprotich who had hang on to the frontrunners throughout sat in third. A Kenyan 1-2 looked to be on the cards as Kirui and Kipsang crossed the 35km (1:46:03) mark with the Ugandan further back.
But instead of laying the hammer down for the finish, Kirui who looked stronger opted to wait up for Kipsang who had ran out of steam and as they approached the 37km mark, the team ethic paid the ultimate price when the Ugandan crept behind and took off for the top medal.
Kirui attempted to respond to the devastating turn of speed, separating from his compatriot but the damage was already done as the Ugandan bought a 19 second cushion as they came to the 40km mark (2:01:12 against 2:01:13) and he even had the time to smile at the cheering crowds.
As he approached the Mall in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, Kiprotich made two cursory glances back to ensure he would not be caught and when he confirmed he would be minted as the Olympics champion, he grabbed his nation’s flag 600m from the finish before breasting the tape in glory, the first Ugandan in 40 years to win Olympic gold since the legendary 400m hurdler John Akii-Bua at the Munich 1972 Olympics.
For Kenya, it was a crushing end to an Olympics that had promised so much before the start as they finished sixth in track and field standings behind arch-rivals Ethiopia who won 3 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze.
South Africa led the continental charts with 3 gold, 2 silver and 3 silver.