NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 14 – Jemima Sumgong produced a brave performance to write history as the first Kenyan to ever win an Olympic gold medal in the women’s marathon after clocking 2:24:04 in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
The sweet victory saw Sumgong, the reigning London Marathon champion hand Kenya her first gold medal at the games to add on two silvers that was won by Vivian Cheruiyit and Paul Tanui in the women’s and men’s 10,000m respectively.
Sumgong, who made sure the national anthem sung for the first time in Rio, pulled off with 1km left from Kenyan-born Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain, who bagged silver in 2:24:13 while reigning world champion Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia settled for bronze in 2:24:30.
Sumgong admitted, however, that she knew victory was hers with 2km to run, saying it made up for her disappointing showing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I was in Beijing but I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t able to win a medal or make it on the podium, but I knew one time, one day, I’d be somewhere,” she said.
“I was never worried that I’d lose this. At the 40km I knew the gold was mine.
“At 35km I noticed that my other two teammates had dropped off and that gave me the motivation to carry on.
“At 40km I saw there were three of us but I knew whatever happened I couldn’t lose the gold and then I knew I was on the way to history.”
Running under bearable sunny conditions of 19 degrees Celsius, the race shaped up when it split at the 10km mark with Paris Marathon champion Visline Jepkesho leading the pack followed by compatriots reigning world champion Helah Kiprop and Sumgong.
Also in the leading group was the Ethiopian trio of Dibaba, Dubai winner Tirfi Tsegaye and second placed at this year’s London Marathon Tigist Tufa as well as the Kenyan-born Bahrain duo of world bronze medallist Eunice Kirwa and Rose Chelimo.
However, approaching the 18km loop, the Ethiopian team suffered a blow when one of their medal prospects Tigist dropped from the leading pack of 11 after picking a severe cramp on her right leg.
The leading pack, led by Jepkesho, who looked strong, covered the 20km mark in a split time of 1:9.07 as Helah Kiprop hanged on her shoulder.
Reaching halfway, Mazuronak Volha of Belarusa took off to increase the tempo of the race followed closely behind by the experienced East Africans.
But just as the Ethiopian team was trimmed down to two athletes, it was the turn of the Kenyans to see their team affected with the drop of Jepkesho who looked tired leaving the leading pack with two Kenyans, two Ethiopians, two runners from Bahrain, two Americans and the Belarus.
With the temperatures of the Brazil capital heating up, Kenya suffered further blow with this time medal prospect Helah Kiprop dropping from the leading pack of nine, leaving only Sumgong to battle for the Kenyan gold medal that the country was seeking to win for the first time in history.
Ethiopian Tirfi took control of the race with compatriot Dibaba following closely as Sumgong hanged on in the middle as the athletes approached the 32km mark, though the race was slow.
Inside the 35km mark the race was still tight as the leading group of seven stuck together covering a time of 2:00.31 with no intention of pulling off.
The three potential medalists started to open as Tirfi and Chelimo dropped off as Kirwa pulled the race increasing the speed followed by Dibaba with Sumgong hanging on third.
The race finally opened up when Kirwa broke the field that was split to three including Dibaba and Sumgong who pulled clear as all of them were sure of a medal.
Hitting the 40km mark Sumgong made the decisive move to take the lead as Dibaba dropped off with Kirwa hanging on in the second place.
Sumgong then turned the screw on former compatriot Kirwa down the home stretch to claim a historic gold for Kenya’s women marathon runners.
For a large part of the race, there was a lead pack of 15.
Then came Kirwa’s burst before Sumgong showed all her experience to power past the Bahraini for gold.