Olympics: Kenya's Kipchoge repeats as champion in men's marathon

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya wins the men's marathon at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug. 8, 2021, in Sapporo, northern Japan. (Kyodo)

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya masterfully defended his Olympic men’s marathon gold at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, while Japan’s Suguru Osako finished sixth in the final competitive race of his career.

World record holder Kipchoge crossed the line in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 38 seconds, more than a minute faster than the next best runner, to become only the third man with multiple Olympic titles in the event.

Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands finished 1:20 behind to take the silver medal and Belgium’s Bashir Abdi claimed bronze with a time of 2:10:00.

The race, which started and finished at Sapporo Odori Park, got under way in overcast and slightly windy conditions, with the temperature at 26 C and humidity of 80 percent. Organizers kept the starting time at 7 a.m. rather than moving it up to mitigate the heat as they did for the women’s marathon the previous day.

Kipchoge was part of a lead pack of 11 runners including Osako and the race was slow at the start, but by the 35-kilometer mark, Kipchoge had opened up a 27-second lead.

The 36-year-old now has four Olympic medals, having previously won marathon gold in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro as well as silver in the 5,000 meters in 2008 and bronze in the same event in 2004. He shattered the world record with a time of 2:01:39 at the Berlin Marathon in 2018.

“I think I have fulfilled the legacy by winning the marathon for the second time, back-to-back. I hope now to help inspire the next generation,” Kipchoge said, adding that the win has special significance for him after the Tokyo Olympics were delayed one year due to the pandemic.

“It means a lot for me, especially at this time. It was really hard last year, it was postponed. I am happy for the local organizing committee who made this race happen. It is a sign that shows the world we are heading in the right direction.”

The course, which ran across the Toyohira River and through the historic Hokkaido University campus, was lined with onlookers despite organizers’ calls to stay home and watch the games on TV due to COVID-19 concerns. Most wore masks, though some cheered loudly as the runners passed by.

Home favorite Osako, who was chasing the silver and bronze pack, fell to eighth at one point but he was able to surpass two runners to finish sixth in a season-best 2:10:41 for Japan’s first top-eight finish since 2012.

“It got tough at the end. I wanted to catch up to the runners ahead of me but couldn’t close the gap,” he said.

Though still only 30 years old, the former Japanese record holder has said he will retire from competition after the Tokyo Olympics.

“The next generation can improve on my result and contend for medals if they work hard. It’s their turn now.”

Elsewhere for Japan, Shogo Nakamura and Yuma Hattori finished 62nd and 73rd, respectively, among the 76 runners who completed the race. Thirty runners did not finish, including London Olympics gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda and all three Ethiopians.

Kenya adds to its gold and silver in the women’s marathon on Saturday, with Peres Jepchirchir winning the race ahead of Brigid Kosgei.

The marathon races came on the last two days of sporting action as the 17-day Tokyo Olympics draw to a close.