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Jepchirchir beats Kosgei, Molly Seidel takes bronze in Olympic marathon

Seidel ran the race of a lifetime for the bronze medal, while Canada's Malindi Elmore finished in the top 10 and Natasha Wodak in the top 15

In the final, gruelling 2 km of the hot, humid women’s Olympic marathon, Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir pulled away from the world record-holder, Brigid Kosgei, crossing the line for the gold medal in 2:27:20. Her teammate followed 16 seconds later, in 2:27:36. But the day’s jaw-dropping performance was by the American, Molly Seidel, who shocked fans by running with the lead pack throughout the entire race, ultimately falling off the leaders only in the final few minutes and taking the Olympic bronze medal in 2:27:46, only 26 seconds behind the winner. Canada’s Malindi Elmore had a fantastic race, finishing in 9th, with Natasha Wodak not far behind her, in 13th. Dayna Pidhoresky had a difficult race, finishing in 73rd place well off her personal best in 3:03:10. 

The best performance by an athlete from the host country was Mao Ichiyama, who finished eighth. Ayuko Suzuki finished in the top 20.

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In an indication of just how tough conditions were, 88 women lined up to start, but only 73 finished. It was an early start for the athletes, who toed the line at 6 a.m. after the race was moved up an hour due to the extreme heat and humidity. The pace started out reasonably comfortably for the runners, and the lead pack of more than 40 athletes went through the first 5K in just over 18 minutes, the first 10K in a little over 36 minutes. The leaders began picking up the pace, and the pack began to thin, but Elmore and Wodak remained tucked into the front group. Pidhoresky seemed to be having a difficult time, and by the 15K mark she was six minutes behind the leaders.

At around 20K, both Elmore and Wodak began to lose touch with the leaders as the pace heated up, and it was Israel’s Lonah Salpeter, Kenya’s Jepchirchir and Ruth Chepngetich making up the top three. Kenya’s Kosgei and Ethiopia’s Roza Dereje were still in the mix, along with Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego of the U.S. and Melat Kejeta of Germany, among a group of 12 runners. The lead group went through the halfway point in 1:15.

 

By 30K the pack of 12 had thinned to a pack of nine, with Jepchichir, Salpeter and Seidel leading the way. Chepngetich dropped back, slowing to a walk, and ultimately did not finish. Elmore and Wodak continued to run strong races, in 15th and 17th. Seven kilometres later, Kosgei and Jepchirchir had broken away from the pack, with Seidel and Salpeter a short distance being them. At 38K, Salpeter had to stop and walk, effectively ending her Olympic dreams (though she ultimately finished), and Seidel began reeling in the Kenyans. At 40K, Seidel was only six seconds behind the leaders, with Dereje 30 seconds behind her. (Dereje, who DNF’d at the world championships marathon in Doha in 2019, ultimately finished fourth today.)

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With two kilometres to go, Jepchirchir cranked up the pace and began to gap Ksogei, the world record-holder. She crossed the finish line as the gold medal winner, with Kosgei in the silver-medal position and Seidel with the bronze. Elmore finished in 2:30:59 and Wodak crossed the line in 2:31:41. To her immense credit, Pidhoresky didn’t give up, and crossed the line as the last of the 73 finishers, in 3:03:10. (Pidhoresky was forced to isolate in her hotel after coming into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID on her flight to Japan more than a week ago, and was prevented from training during most of the final week.

Until today, Jepchirchir had never won a major international marathon. She currently holds the womenโ€™s-only half-marathon record at 1:05:16. She ran her marathon personal best of 2:17 at Valencia just last year, making her the fifth fastest of all time. Seidel is only the third American woman to medal in an Olympic marathon: Joan Benoit won gold in 1984 (the debut of the women’s marathon) and Deena Kastor (who holds the American record at 2:19) took bronze in 2004 in Athens.

Here is the top 15:

    1. Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya)
    2. Brigid Kosgei (Kenya)
    3. Molly Seidel (USA)
    4. Roza Dereje (Ethiopia)
    5. Volha Mazuronak (Belarus)
    6. Melat Yisak Kejeta (Germany)
    7. Eunice Chumba (Bahrain)
    8. Mao Ichiyama (Japan)
    9. Malindi Elmore (Canada)
    10. Sinead Diver (Australia)
    11. Helalia Johannes (Namibia)
    12. Fabienne Schlumpf (Switzerland)
    13. Natasha Wodak (Canada)
    14. Karolina Jarzynska (Poland)
    15. Gerda Steyn (South Africa)