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Sumgong Makes History With First Kenyan Win in Women’s Marathon

She took on the Rio heat and humidity to be the first Kenyan to win the event.

Athletics Marathon - Olympics: Day 9 Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

If you were to ask the average track fan how many of the 8 previous editions of the Women’s marathon in the Olympics were won by a Kenyan, you would probably expect an answer that assumes most or at least some but in fact the answer was none until today. While marathon greats like Catherine Ndereba and Priscah Jeptoo had claimed runner up finishes in prior Olympics, no Kenyan woman had yet taken the gold until Jemima Sumgong surged to victory over the final miles in Rio today, stopping the clock at 2:24:04, 9 seconds ahead of the Kenyan-born Bahranian Eunice Kirwa.

Sumgong, who fell and hit her head in this year’s London marathon yet still managed to get up and win, sat in the pack biding her time until the final miles when she began to relentlessly attack in the final 7 kilometers. The conditions managed to take out most of the competition leaving behind just the World Champion, Ethiopian Mare Dibaba and World Championship bronze medalist Eunice Kirwa. Dibaba’s lethal kick was dispatched by Sumgong’s strategy and she powered away leaving Kirwa to finish second and DIbaba to take Bronze.

For the American fans, the race was full of excitement. Watching Des LInden run a patient race and go from almost a minute back to within striking distance of the leaders made us think that she might’ve employed the right strategy to get on the podium. Similarly, watching Flanagan bide her time in the pack as it whittled down to the top 6 felt full of promise. Ultimately, the 6th, 7th and 9th place finishes of Americans Flanagan, Davila and Cragg, respectively, felt a little bittersweet.

Nonetheless, the efforts of these American women was commendable - in London Flanagan and Kara Goucher finished 10th and 11th, respectively, and almost 3 minutes out of the win. Today, Flanagan finished within 1 minute 22 seconds of the win. A seemingly large but not insurmountable gap. It may seem like a silver lining to the event but the gap between the World’s best and the top Americans is being bridged, albeit slowly.

FInally, Sumgong’s performance was incredibly spectacular but that doesn’t stop us from wondering if Kenyan’s team selection process is flawed. Despite their dominance in the marathon distance, Kenya had just 1 runner in the top 10 today. London and NY champion Mary Keitany who ran 68:53 for the halfmarathon this year was controversially left off the team and just lack week she took down the course record at the Beach 2 Beacon 10K in 30:45. It’s hard to imagine Keitany not being at least on the podium, if not challenging Sumgong for gold.

Top 10.

  1. Sumgong KEN 2:24:04
  2. KIrwa BRN 2:24:13
  3. Dibaba ETH 2:24:30
  4. Tsegaye ETH 2:24:47
  5. Mazuronak BLR 2:24:48
  6. Flanagan USA 2:25:26
  7. Linden USA 2:26:08
  8. Chelimo BRN 2:27:36
  9. Cragg USA 2:28:25
  10. Hye-Song PRK 2:28:36