LONDON, Aug 12 – Ugandan outsider Stephen Kiprotich said he was happy to become a “known athlete” after stunning a heavily fancied Kenyan team to claim victory in the Olympic marathon on Sunday.
Kiprotich’s gold was only his east African nation’s second, the last coming 40 years ago when 400m hurdler John Akii-Bua struck gold at the Munich Games.
The Ugandan produced a devasting kick with 7km remaining to kill off any Kenyan hopes of a victory, going on to time 2hr 08min 01sec on the spectacular course around the streets of central London in hot and humid conditions.
Kenya completed the podium, two-time defending world champion Abel Kirui claiming silver in 2:08.27 and long-time leader Wilson Kipsang taking bronze in 2:09.37.
“I thought before the race that either Kenya or Ethiopia would win,” said Kiprotich, who has moved to the famed Eldoret region of the Kenya’s Rift Valley to train with former world 5000m champion Eliud Kipchoge.
“I really didn’t think I could win it, but when it came to three miles to go, I decided to go for it. I’d stayed in touch and made my move.
“It was only when I crossed the line that I really believed I had done it. I’ve moved on from being an unknown. I’m happy now that I’m a known athlete.”
Kiprotich said he was delighted to have snared Uganda’s second ever gold.
“It’s for my family, my people, my coaches. I’m very, very happy,” he said. “I haven’t seen John Akii-Bua personally but the memories are there. I dreamt that I could be like him.
“I told myself to relax and be patient, and today I have joined the champions and I’m very happy with that.”
Kiprotich, however, took aim at sporting authorities in Uganda for not providing athletes there with the back-up needed to succeed.
“I’ll take this opportunity to send a message to the Ugandan athletics federation and minister of sports,” he said.
“The problem is that we have no facilities. That’s what pushed me to Kenya. They’ve been promising facilities but there are none.
“When I go home, it’s just to visit family.”
Silver medallist Kiprui, who said he would now target next year’s London marathon before competing in the world championships in Moscow, said he and Kipsang had been taken aback by Kiprotich’s performance, having thought their rival out of the running.
As the leading trio went through the gilded, covered Leadenhall Market for the final time with 7km to go, the Kenyans upped the pace to shake off Kiprotich.
But the Kenyan duo were caught napping as Kiprotich showed a dramatic change of pace to surge to the front in an audacious ambush at 36km.
“When I was with Kipsang, we saw Kiprotich fading away,” Kirui said.
“But then he surprised us by coming back. He went and it’s very hard to control that type of move.
“He’s our brother. I appreciate Kiprotich because he’s a very determined runner.”
Kipsang rued the early slow pace, but also praised the gold medallist.
“In every competition, the best athlete always wins. Kiprotich was the best today. I don’t feel bad he won. Everybody came here for gold, and the best always wins,” said Kipsang.
“The Olympics are very competitive. Today you win, tomorrow you don’t, life continues.”