RIO DE JANEIRO, “I have the world record in sight,” were the words of Eliud Kipchoge moments after romping to heroic victory and best ever marathon in Rio.
Kipchoge pleasantly won the Olympic marathon on Sunday after a dominant display all through the course and described the sterling performance as, his ‘best ever race."
And it was arguably the greatest 42km race, won by the best even without the Olympic record.
Kipchoge locked the gold medal with about seven kilometres to go, then majestically cruised past the finish line flashing the victory sign in 2:08.44, his seventh marathon win in eight starts.
So comfortable was Kipchoge that he finished the race, celebrated his first Olympic gold in two previous track attempts, then turned over to wait for the other medallists anxiously scanning the course to see if he can spot his teammates.
“I feel great. This is the best marathon ever in my life, the best race of my career. This was the only gold medal that was not on my neck, “Kipchoge said, grinning.
But even as he was touted as the best ever marathoner of all time, he made it clear that he was still one target shot.
“I have that one at the back of my mind I can’t say when but before I have the world record in sight before the end of my career,” he said.
Ethiopian Lilesa protests oppresion
Second placed Feyisa Lilesa defiantly crossed the line at the Sambodromo, the parade facility that stages the famous Brazilian carnival, almost a minute 10 seconds behind Kipchoge crossing his hands above his head, a sign of protest against the alleged Ethiopian government’s oppression on the supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front.
He timed 2:09.54 as American Galen Rupp won bronze in 2:10.05.
The 31-year old Kenyan had flawlessly executed his plan with the wet and drizzly conditions in Rio working out perfectly for him, but not for his compatriots Wesley Korir who dropped out at the 42km and Stanley Biwott who gave up the chase at the 36km point.
“The rain contributed to some percentage,” Kipchoge the two time London marathon champion responded when asked about the conditions that most of the other East Africans found unfavourable.
“It helped, helped us. I don’t know what would happen (if it had not rained) but it was the best day for us.”
Lelisa hogged the headlines with his daring celebration at the finish line and immediately denounced the Ethiopian government, less concerned with the imminent danger if he chooses to go back home or even losing his Silver as the International Olympics committee forbids political expression at the games stage.
“Ethiopian government are killing Oromo people. Oromo people have been moved by the government from their land without any reasons,” he claimed spotting also the Oromia black, red and white wrist band.
“I support the Oromo protest because I am an Oromo. Ethiopian government kill my people. I will stand with Oromo people always. All my relatives are in prison,” said the 26-year-old Tokyo marathon champion.
“I will discuss with my family (because)If I go back to Ethiopia they will kill me or if not they put me in prison, or if not they block me at the airport. Maybe I will move to another country. I have not decided.”
Earlier on the course, it was a crowded field that had spread across the streets with the three Kenyans at the front line up to the 20km.
The race stretched out in the 30th kilometre Lemi Behrhanu, second in Dubai earlier in the year, leading a field of about seven runners that included compatriot Lilesa, American Rupp Galen and Ugandan Mutai.
By then Eritrean Ghirmay Ghebreslassie world champion from Beijing had dropped off.
Just after the 30km that Berhanu crossed in 1:33.15, he injected pace that broke the pack with Kipchoge just a step back, Biwott struggling to stay at a touching distance.
Korir and Mutai,the Ugandan were a further 20m back.
At the 32km the race was down to four;the two Ethiopians, Kipchoge and Rupp looking to improve on his fifth place at the world championships.
The leaders pack soon reduced to three running in a single file, Kipchoge upfront, Rupp and Lilesa third, Berhanu a further back in fourth, unable to keep up with the pace.
Biwott had gone past Mutai for fifth looking to get past the slackening Ethiopian, five second adrift the leaders.
Korir and Biwott dropped off
But at the 35km mark which he timed 1:47.40, Kicphoge vivaciously sprinted away from Lilesa, Rupp a distant third.
But about 600m behind him Biwott had given up the chase and strolled out of the course, holding his waist. He complained of sharp stomach pains.
Kipchoge briskly charged through the heavily guarded Rio streets outside the Candeleria church at the 38km mark, the Brazilian security forces lining the course to ensure no disruptor ruins Kipchoge’s blast to the finish.
Kipchoge had a comfortable 23 seconds lead from Lilesa, as he glanced over his shoulders in the last turn before the home stretch.
The last two kilometres, Kipchoge's lead has increased to 36 seconds, a lead that he held on until the finish, around the same time Korir gave up his Olympic chas of the 155 starters.
“This means a lot the first time men and women have won gold medals in the Olympic games in the marathon. This was really crucial for us,” concluded kipchoge, glad that he had bagged the championships final Olympic gold as the late Samuel Wanjiru did in 2008 in Beijing. It was only the second time that Kenya had bagged the marathon men's title in the games history.
Kenya's six gold, six silver and a bronze from Rio, also bettered Beijing's 6-4-4 which had been the countr's best showing at the games. Kenya was lying 15th overall in the medal standing, the top ranked African nation behind leaders USA with 43 gold and a total of 118 medals.