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Eliud Kipchoge dominates Olympic marathon as 30 runners DNF in Sapporo heat

Thirty runners did not finish, including all three Ethiopians

Photo by: Coros

It wasn’t as fast as we’ve come to expect, but from 30K in, there was never any doubt that Eliud Kipchoge was on his way to a repeat performance of his 2016 Olympic marathon win. He stepped on the gas and immediately started to put distance between himself and the rest of the small lead pack, crossing the finish line in 2:08:38, a minute and 20 seconds ahead of the next finisher. The race for silver and bronze was won by lesser known runners, Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands (silver, in a season’s best 2:09:58) and Bashir Abdi of Belgium, who crossed the line for the bronze medal two seconds later, in 2:10:00 (also a season’s best time). 

With this win, Kipchoge joins the greats who have won back-to-back marathons at an Olympic Games. He is the third runner to do so – and in 2024, he will have the chance to become the only athlete ever to three-peat in the marathon.

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Nageeye is one of Kipchoge’s training partners on the NN Running Team. This was his best marathon performance, in terms of finishing position; he has two top-10 finishes at the Boston Marathon (seventh in 2018 and eighth in 2016). The same is true for Abdi, who is a training partner of Mo Farah’s and paced Farah to his one-hour world record on the track in 2020. His best finish before today was seventh at the 2019 London Marathon.

Mo Farah, Bashir Abdi and Daniel Wanjiru at the 2019 London Half Marathon. Photo: Paul W (Creative Commons)

Despite the heat, Canadians Ben Preisner, Trevor Hofbauer and Cam Levins had excellent races, Preisner in particular, who finished in 46th position, in 2:19:27), followed closely by Hofbauer in 48th (2:19:57). Preisner was in 73rd position at 5K and made steady progress as he made his way up throughout the race. Levins went out with the lead pack, but was not able to maintain the pace, dropping to 72nd in 2:28:43 – a very respectable result, considering the high attrition rate. 

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Heat and humidity result in multiple DNFs 

It was another hot, muggy morning in Sapporo for the final event of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The lead pack consisting of Kipchoge, defending bronze medallist from 2016 and U.S. Trials winner Galen Rupp and 2019 world champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, among others, set off at 7 a.m., settling into a comfortable pace of just over three minutes per kilometre. Jeison Alexander Suarez of Colombia maintained a position at or near the front for more than half of the race as athletes stuffed their hats with ice to keep their bodies as cool as possible.

Around halfway, Kipchoge was seen exchanging fist bumps with Daniel Do Nascimento of Brazil, but a short time later, Do Nascimento collapsed, then rallied, then dropped out. By halfway, 10 men had already left the course, including 2012 Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich, 2020 London Marathon winner Shura Kitata and Jack Rayner of Australia, who was one of Kipchoge’s pacers at INEOS 1:59. Sisay Lemma (third at Berlin and Tokyo marathons, with a PB of 2:03) appeared to be struggling soon thereafter. Galen Rupp led the pack briefly, but for the most part appeared willing to let others do the work at the front; he ended up finishing eighth. By 27K, the lead pack had dwindled to about 10, with Kipchoge, Rupp and Suarez leading; Japanese record holder Suguru Osaka was still in the lead pack, as was Desisa.

At 30K, Rupp dropped further and further off the pace. Amos Kipruto also dropped back (eventually joining the long list of DNFs), and the chase pack dwindled to 2019 Boston Marathon winner Lawrence Cherono, Ayad Lamdassem of Spain, Nageeye and Abdi. Osaka tried to come back to them, as Kipchoge stormed toward the finish line with a bounce in his step. Cherono ultimately finished fourth, Lamdassem fifth and Osako sixth. Desisa, Lemma and Shura Kitata of Ethiopia all did not finish.

Top 10 finishers

  1. Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya)
  2. Abdi Nageeye (Netherlands)
  3. Bashir Abdi (Belgium)
  4. Lawrence Cherono (Kenya)
  5. Ayad Lamdassem (Spain)
  6. Suguru Osako (Japan)
  7. Alphonce Felix Simbu (Tanzania)
  8. Galen Rupp (USA)
  9. Othmane El Goumri (Morocco)
  10. Koen Naert (Belgium)

For full results, click here