IN A RACE OF UNFATHOMABLE ATTRITION, Peres Jepchirchir was the only runner with any hint of run left in her legs as she crossed the finish to take gold in 2:27:20. Kenyan teammate Brigid Kosgei took silver (2:27:36), with American Molly Seidel earning the bronze (2:27:46) as all three medalists were making their Olympic debuts.
Despite the move to northern Japan, you knew it was going to be a very hot race when the wet bulb temperature of 31C (88F) was displayed on the starting line. For those of you not packing a sling psychrometer, that’s equivalent to high 70’s with a 72-degree dew point — in layman’s terms equating to 4200 laps inside a sweat lodge.
No surprise that this race started cautiously. In the early kilometers the marathon royalty assembled at the front: Kenyans, Ethiopians, Japanese, a number of Kenyan-born expats and the American duo of Seidel and Sally Kipyego.
From her Foot Locker XC win in high school to NCAA titles in cross and the 10,000 for Notre Dame, Seidel has always been an instinctive racer and had a simple race plan, “I just wanted to come out today, get up in it, stick my nose where it didn’t belong, and see what I could come away with.”
A tidy pack of 47 passed 10K in 36:16 — 2:33:02 pace, as the athletes seemed more focused on taking on fluids and ice packing than racing. With the Kenyan duo of favored Doha champ Ruth Chepngetich and Jepchirchir running point, the pace picked up and the crowd thinned out.
A downhill 17:31 segment leading into 15K cut the lead to 25, and a subsequent 17:40 halved the pack to the dozen that crossed halfway in 75:14.
That lead group remained together through a 17:24 5K split to reach 25 K in 1:28:51 (2:29:58 pace). Then Jepchirchir went to work on a long downhill grade, dishing out a pair of sub-3:20s. Kipyego and, surprisingly, Chepngetich fell out of contention as the lead group was pared to 7, splitting 2:02:58 at 30K — an improvement to 2:29:11 pace. It was later revealed that Chepngetich had her travel delayed and only arrived in Sapporo 9 hours before race time.
Entering the final 10K loop the lead 7 held together until Jepchirchir and Kosgei teamed-up at 33K for a pair of 3:18s that dropped the lone Ethiopian left in the group, Roza Dereje. “It is just teamwork,” Jepchirchir offered, “we decided to help each other because we wanted to be one and two.”
The 16:54 split sent the remaining 5 past the 35K mark in 2:02:58 (2:28:50 pace), and set the stage for a dramatic medal chase with Seidel’s nose still firmly planted in this race. “We didn’t go out super-fast and I kept it very controlled. After halfway, rather than follow, I wanted to make moves and be aggressive. These races are tactical, so I wanted to be a little bit of a bulldog and not let people walk over me.”
Seidel often ran separately from the group in the shade across the road from the formidable quartet of Kenyan-born athletes — Chepngetich and Kosgei, and expats Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (Israel) and Eunice Chumba (Bahrain). All 4 have the benefit of altitude; Seidel’s advantage was that she developed her running talents in the lake district of Wisconsin where the surface water of surrounding lakes tended to spike humidity to Japanese levels.
In the drive to the line, Chumba was the first to give way, dropping off after 36K, and in the 38th Seidel slipped 5m back. A kilometer later Seidel slipped back 40m as Jepchirchir hammered a 3:17 for the 40th K that gapped Kosgei. Salpeter, stricken with menstrual cramps, ceased running and would walk this one in.
Seidel locked onto 3rd as the 27-year-old Jepchirchir set her sights on gold, saying, “I pushed the pace and it was like. ‘Wow! I’m going to make it, I’m going to win.’”
Jepchirchir’s lead was up to 80m over Kosgei, with Seidel another 50 back — distances that were immaterial as they covered the final kilometer fully on survival mode: left-right-get me to the finish.
“I can’t believe it,” Seidel effused, “just getting here was already a dream come true and to be able to come today against a field like this and to be able to come way with the bronze for the U.S.. I’m in shock, I’m in disbelief right now. I worked so hard for this.”
After persevering through a series of challenging life issues, Seidel was more than ready for the challenges of a hot weather race, though it left her fully spent. Signing off to her virtual family she admitted, “I’m so tired,” before adding a simple Wisconsin request, “Please drink a beer for me.”
WOMEN’S MARATHON RESULTS
(Sapporo, August 07) (temperature 77–84F/25–29C; humidity 84–67%)
1. Peres Jepchirchir (Ken) 2:27:20
(18:02, 18:14 [36:16], 17:32 [53:48], 17:39 [1:11:27], 17:24 [1:28:51], 17:13 [1:46:04], 16:54 [2:02:58], 17:01 [2:19:59], 7:21)
2. Brigid Kosgei (Ken) 2:27:36
3. Molly Seidel (US) 2:27:46 (AL)
4. Roza Dereje (Eth) 2:28:38;
5. Volha Mazuronak (Blr) 2:29:06
6. Melat Kejeta (Ger) 2:29:16
7. Eunice Chumba (Bhr) 2:29:36
8. Mao Ichiyama (Jpn) 2:30:13
9. Malindi Elmore (Can) 2:30:59; 10. Sinead Diver (Aus) 2:31:14; 11. Helaria Johannes (Nam) 2:31:22; 12. Fabienne Schlumpf (Swi) 2:31:36; 13. Natasha Wodak (Can) 2:31:41; 14. Karolina Nadolska (Pol) 2:32:04; 15. Gerda Steyn (SA) 2:32:10; 16. Immaculate Chemutai (Uga) 2:32:23; 17. Sally Kipyego (US) 2:32:53; 18. Deborah Schöneborn (Ger) 2:33:08; 19. Ayuko Suzuki (Jpn) 2:33:14;
20. Neheng Khatala (Les) 2:33:15; 21. Matea Parlov Koštro (Cro) 2:33:18; 22. Carolina Wikström (Swe) 2:33:19; 23. Ellie Pashley (Aus) 2:33:39; 24. Failuna Abdi Matanga (Tan) 2:33:58; 25. Fionnuala McCormack (Ire) 2:34:09; 26. Lisa Weightman (Aus) 2:34:19; 27. Gladys Tejeda (Per) 2:34:21; 28. Mieke Gorissen (Bel) 2:34:24; 29. Elena Loyo (Spa) 2:34:38;
30. Carla Salomé Rocha (Por) 2:34:52; 31. Katharina Steinruck (Ger) 2:35:00; 32. Giovanna Epis (Ita) 2:35:09; 33. Honami Maeda (Jpn) 2:35:28; 34. Kyung-Sun Choi (SK) 2:35:33; 35. Aleksandra Lisowska (Pol) 2:35:33; 36. Darya Maslova (Kir) 2:35:35; 37. Marta Galimany (Spa) 2:35:39; 38. Susan Jeptoo (Fra) 2:36:29; 39. Stephanie Davis (GB) 2:36:33;
40. Jovana de la Cruz (Per) 2:36:38; 41. Rosalba Chacha (Ecu) 2:36:44; 42. Yevheniya Prokofyeva (Ukr) 2:36:47; 43. Nazret Weldu (Eri) 2:37:01; 44. Andrea Deelstra (Neth) 2:37:05; 45. Munkhzaya Bayartsogt (Mgl) 2:37:08; 46. Zhanna Mamazhanova (Kaz) 2:37:42; 47. Deshun Zhang (Chn) 2:37:45; 48. Maor Tiyouri (Isr) 2:37:52; 49. Hanne Verbruggen (Bel) 2:38:03;
50. Nina Savina (Blr) 2:38:41; 51. Martina Strähl (Swi) 2:39:25; 52. Marcela Joglová (CzR) 2:39:29; 53. Bojana Bjeljac (Cro) 2:39:32; 54. Lilia Fisikovici (Mol) 2:39:59; 55. Angie Orjuela (Col) 2:40:04; 56. Rkia El Moukim (Mor) 2:40:10; 57. Seul-Ki Ahn (SK) 2:41:11; 58. Tereza Hrochová (CzR) 2:42:25; 59. Angelika Mach (Pol) 2:42:26;
60. Andrea Bonilla (Ecu) 2:43:30; 61. Marcela Cristina Gómez (Arg) 2:44:09; 62. Zhixuan Li (Chn) 2:45:23; 63. Jill Holterman (Neth) 2:45:27; 64. Ursula Sanchez (Mex) 2:45:45; 65. Daniela Torres (Mex) 2:47:15; 66. Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (Isr) 2:48:31; 67. Li Bai (Chn) 2:49:21; 68. Steph Twell (GB) 2:53:26; 69. Juliet Chekwel (Uga) 2:53:40; 70. Sara Catarina Ribeiro (Por) 2:55:01; 71. Jess Piasecki (GB) 2:55:39; 72. Sharon Firisua (SOL) 3:02:10 NR; 73. Dayna Pidhoresky (Can) 3:03:10;
… dnf—Kokob Tesfagabriel (Eri), Andrea Soraya Limon (Mex), Darya Mykhaylova (Ukr), Sara Moreira (Por), Laura Mendez (Spa), Eva Vrabcová-Nývltová (CzR), Irvette van Zyl (SA), Aliphine Tuliamuk (US), Viktoriya Kalyuzhna (Ukr), Birhane Dibaba (Eth), Zeineba Yimer (Eth), Meryem Erdoğan (Tur), Ruth Chepngetich (Ken), Aoife Cooke (Ire), Tejitu Daba (Bhr).
(5K leader splits: Chepngetich 18:02; Jepchirchir 36:16; Chepngetich 53:47; Salpeter 1:11:27; Jepchirchir 1:28:51, 1:46:04; Kosgei 2:02:58; Jepchirchir 2:19:59) ◻︎