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In one of the most remarkable and unlikely runs ever by an American distance runner, Wisconsin native Molly Seidel earned a bronze medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic marathon, running 2:27:46 in the heat of Sapporo on Saturday morning. Seidel established herself near the front of the race early, and remained there throughout. Late in the race, Seidel was in a battle for bronze with Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, but with three miles to go, Salpeter stopped running, leaving Seidel in bronze-medal position, which she protected to the finish line.
Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir, the world record holder in the women’s-only half marathon, pulled away from teammate Brigid Kosgei, the marathon world record holder, in the final two kilometers to take the gold in 2:27:20. Kosgei settled for the silver in 2:27:36, her first loss in her her last five marathons.
The story for American distance running fans was Seidel, running in only her third marathon of her life (her first was the Olympic Trials marathon in 2020 to get here). Seidel beat five sub-2:20 women. She entered the race with a 2:25:13 personal best and yet was in the conversation for the gold until the final 2k. She joined American running legends Joan Benoit Samuelson (gold in 1984) and Deena Kastor (silver in 2004), as the only American women to medal in the Olympic marathon.
At race time, it was sunny and 76 degrees with 87% humidity, despite the race being moved up an hour because of the heat to start at 6 a.m. local.
As a result, the race went out slow, with 5K and 10K splits of 18:02 and 36:16 for the leaders (2:32:50 marathon pace at 10K). The lead pack remained about 40 or 50 women strong at the 10-kilometer split, but the effect of the heat was unmistakable, with women applying ice bags on themselves and running wide to get into the shade. By this point, US champion Aliphine Tuliamuk had fallen off the pace (she would eventually drop out).
From there, as the race advanced north on a slight downhill, it picked up. Honami Maeda of Japan took a few turns at the front, as did Americans Seidel and Sally Kipyego, but it was mostly shared. The next two 5K splits (17:31 and 17:41) were quicker and reduced the lead pack to less than 20 women by 20K. Zeineba Yimer, a 2:19 woman from Ethiopia, dropped out at the 17K mark.
The lead group went through halfway in 1:15:14, and the lead group was whittled down to 11 with Ethiopian contender Birhane Dibaba falling off the back.
Americans Seidel and Kipyego remained in the lead pack of 12 at 25K (Volha Mazuronak of Belarus rejoined the lead pack between halfway and 25k), which the women went through in 1:28:51 (2:29:47 pace). Ethiopian Roza Dereje Bekele (2:18:30 pb) and Salpeter (2:17:45 pb), along with the three Kenyans, were pushing the tempo slightly.
After that split, as the women continued to weave through the north Sapporo suburbs and Hokkaido University, racers started dropping off the lead pack like flies: first Kipyego, then Mazuronak and then a big casualty — Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya, the reigning world champ, falling back around the 29K mark.
Meanwhile at the front, Seidel led the entire 18th mile in around 5:26. The lead group of nine went through 30K in 1:46:03 (17:12 previous 5K, quickest of the race). The Japanese spectators pulled for their countrywoman Mao Ichiyama, who was still there.
The 30-35K split was the quickest of the race (16:54) and those five kilometers caused the biggest carnage: four women, including Ichiyama and Dereje, the final Ethiopian, dropped off the lead pack.
Now with the group down to five and less than five miles remaining, and Seidel continuing to run with confidence and share the lead with the two remaining Kenyans, the curiosity surrounding Seidel turned into a real possibility…could she snag a medal?
Bahrain’s Eunice Chumba dropped off just after the 35K mark, making it a four-woman race for three medals: Kosgei, Jepchirchir, Salpeter, and Seidel. Women with personal bests of 2:14, 2:17, 2:17, and 2:25. But in the summer Japan heat, the strongest women would win, not the fastest.
In the 24th mile, the Kenyans finally struck, Jepchirchir throwing in a surge and Kosgei covering it. They opened up a small gap on Salpeter and Seidel immediately, and Salpeter had a few meters on Seidel.Before one even had time to process whether Seidel’s fairytale quest for a medal was coming to an end, her fortunes changed drastically. At the 38-kilometer mark, Seidel caught Salpeter, who was still less than five seconds behind the leaders, but slowing slightly. Salpeter, however, was broken. Within a span of seconds she slowed to a walk and Seidel was into the bronze position, with the leaders still in her sights, Jepchirchir in front and Kosgei sitting on her.
At 40k, Jepchirchir and Kosgei were still together with Seidel only six seconds back, 31 seconds ahead of fourth place, comfortably in bronze position, barring a blowup. Seidel appeared to be closing on the leaders. Could she even get the silver or the gold?
Not quite. Jepchirchir had one final gold-medal move, dropping Kosgei just after the 40K split and quickly opening a 10-second gap. She would extend her winning margin to 16 seconds by running the final 2.195 kilometers at 5:23 pace.
Kosgei was fading slightly but so was Seidel. Both held their positions through the line, as Seidel could not quite summon the finish to get back to Kosgei and finished 10 seconds behind her in the bronze medal position.
Seidel yelled in delight as she crossed the finish line, while Kosgei looked slightly disappointed with the silver. The third American, Sally Kipyego, finished 17th in 2:32:53.
The temperature at the finish was 84 degrees with 67% humidity.
(08/07/2021) Views: 1,049 ⚡AMP
Fifty-six years after having organized the Olympic Games, the Japanese capital will be hosting a Summer edition for the second time, originally scheduled from July 24 to August 9, 2020, the games were postponed due to coronavirus outbreak, the postponed Tokyo Olympics will be held from July 23 to August 8 in 2021, according to the International Olympic Committee decision. ...more...