There was an unknown sight along the women’s marathon route at the Tokyo Olympics: real fans. Well done too.
At the end, a more familiar sight – a Kenyan runner in the lead.
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Peres Jepchirchir led a Kenyan double in the heat and humidity resistant women’s marathon while running through the streets of Sapporo, more than 500 miles (over 800 kilometers) north of Tokyo.
Jepchirchir’s winning time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, 20 seconds on Saturday was not quick – 10 minutes short of his personal best – but it was still scorching under the conditions.
The start was moved forward an hour to avoid the heat and a handful of spectators lining the course cheered as the Tokyo Games headed north for the marathons and marches. Jepchirchir’s teammate Brigid Kosgei finished second and American Molly Seidel, a relatively newcomer to the marathon stage, took bronze.
“I’m going to say too hot,” said Jepchirchir, who gave Kenya two back-to-back Olympic gold medals. “Despite the challenge of the weather, it was good.”
The dominant thought: Thank goodness for the time change. Seidel was having dinner when she heard the news.
“My jaw just dropped,” she said. “I immediately got up and went to bed.”
A run that was moved to Sapporo to avoid the extreme heat and humidity in Tokyo found little relief on a twisty route through the city. The starter barrel exploded around 6 a.m. under sunny skies and a temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Celsius). It climbed to almost 86 degrees (30) near the finish, with humidity around 65%.
“The weather was really hot and difficult for a competition,” said Kosgei, the event’s world record holder in 2: 14.04. “We did our best to finish.”
There were 88 registered runners on the field and 15 registered a “did not finish”. This included world champion Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya.
Time seemed to take its toll on Israel’s Lonah Salpeter at the end of the race. Among the last four with about 4 kilometers to go, she suddenly stopped and walked to the side of the road. She finished anyway – 21 minutes late.
Seidel pretty much planned for this day when she was a child. In fourth grade, she wrote a note to herself about her goals: to compete in the Olympics.
Even more precise: Win a gold medal.
The bronze was so satisfying. It was also a surprise, given that it was only his third marathon.
She screamed as she crossed the finish line and said “Hi” to her mom and dad into the camera.
“I arrived today with low expectations,” said Seidel, from Wisconsin. “I was hoping to be in the top 10.
“I’m just trying to like to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong and take care of it. I mean, the Olympics only happen once every four years, so you might as well give it a try. “
Volunteers wearing yellow shirts stood along the course with signs that loosely translated: “Refrain from looking here.” But spectators still lined up on the course, offering a rare glimpse of the action at these Olympics where fans were excluded due to coronavirus restrictions.
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Their applause was heard.
“It’s very exciting to come down the course and see the people cheering and seeing the people with the flags out,” said Seidel.
The runners have tried to stay cool in every way they can. Aleksandra Lisowska from Poland grabbed an entire bag full of water at a stop, quickly drank one, then poured another over her head. Andrea Deeltstra from the Netherlands had an ice pack perched on top of her head.
Aliphine Tuliamuk from the United States was returning to racing after giving birth to her daughter in January. She did not finish due to a nagging hip disease.
It was her gold medal moment: getting her daughter out of her stroller after the race.
Some of these competitors got a taste of the oven-type heat and humidity at the 2019 World Championships in Doha. This race took place at midnight and the temperature still reached 88 degrees (31 C). This led to nearly 30 runners failing to reach the finish line as Chepngetich won gold.
Chepngetich was in the race on Saturday until the end of the race when she started walking.
Working as a team, Jepchirchir and Kosgei were neck and neck at the end of the race until Jepchirchir got her moving. Kenya’s two medals gave her a total of seven in the women’s Olympic marathon, the most of any country.
“I pushed on the beat (and when I widened the gap) it was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to get there. I’m going to win,'” said Jepchirchir.