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Sunday, August 12, 2012

London 2012: Live Men's marathon analysis

London 2012: Men's marathon live analysis and splits

Gold for Uganda, as Kiprotich steals the show

Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda is your 2012 Olympic marathon champion.  In a stunning result, the unheralded 23-year old from Uganda surprised the fancied Kenyans to win the Olympic track and field programme's final medal.

His reward is a gold medal, to be handed out at the closing ceremony.  You'd be forgiven for not knowing much about the new Olympic champion, because his credentials coming in said nothing of what he was about to do.

Kiprotich, at only 23, is relatively new to the marathon, but his last three performances told little of his potential.  He has a 2:07:20 PB in the marathon, run in Enschede in 2011.  He ran a 2:07:50 in Tokyo this year, and was 13th in the IAAF World Championships marathon last year (2:12:57).

His track credentials are nothing special (27:58), but that is likely because he's never run seriously for track times.  His half marathon PB is "only" 62:52, also nothing to scare the sub-60 min Kenyans into thinking he would be the man to beat them today.

That he was, however, and he pulled off a huge surprise to win Uganda's first gold.

An intriguing race

The race was intriguing throughout, set up by early Kenyan aggression, but it became a race of attrition.

Consider for example that the halfway split was 1:03:15 for early leader Kipsang, with the chase group (including Kiprotich) 16 seconds back.  Their split was therefore 1:03:31, and the winning time was 2:08:01.  That means that Kiprotich ran a 1:04:30 second half, a minute slower than the first and he was closest to running an even pace of the early leaders (I'll check later to see if a strong finish was closer, but I doubt it.  Keflezighi, for example, was a very strong finisher, but he went through halfway in 1:04:30 and finished in 2:11:06 (1:06:36))

The rest collapsed under the pressure, and in the conditions. Abel Kirui, a proven championship runner, was second, 26 seconds behind, and Kipsang finished third, a full 1:36 down.  Other big favourites were totally blown away.  The Ethiopian challenge is perhaps best exemplified by Abshero, who was in the chase group until after halfway, but then got dropped and went backwards at an incredible rate.  Having gone through 25km in 1:15:05 with the chase group, he went through 35km in 1:49:22, which included a 5km segment of 19:03, before he stepped off the road.  The other Ethiopians also didn't not finish, with Sifar actually losing contact as early as 10km before he stopped.

A terrible day for Ethiopia, then, and a disappointing day for Kenya, despite getting two men onto the podium.  After what has been a disappointing Games for them, they'd have been hoping that their most dominant event, the Marathon, would at least provide some desired gold, to defend the title the late Sammy Wanjiru won in Beijing.

It was not to be, though they raced much more aggressively than we've seen so far in the distance races in Beijing.

The race as it unfolded

There were echoes of Wanjiru in the race today, because Kipsang took the race lead as early as 10km, with an aggressive 14;12 split from 10km to 15km, and opened a lead that got up to 16 seconds.

The chasers eventually reeled him in, but not before huge damage had been done to most of the field. By the time the race re-formed at the front, around the 27km, there were only three men left - Kipsang, Kirui and Kiprotich. The Ethiopian challenge had been seen off, as first Sifer, then Fekele and then Abshero were blown away.

The three were left to sort out the medals, and there was a moment, around 35k, where it seemed that the Kenyans had broken the resistance of their East African neighbour.  Kiprotich dropped off, not substantially, just by about 10m, but it seemed that it was the first sign of his impending slow down, because it co-incided with the slowest interval of the race (15:48).  However, he was well in control, caught up at 37km, and then went straight past.

At that moment, the Kenyan response simply did not come.  The pre-race favorites, having dealt with the Ethiopian threat, now found themselves trailing a man who they must surely have discounted as a serious challenger.

But Kiprotich was the man on the day, and his final 5km were unchallenged.  He is not the first man from Uganda to win Olympic Gold, but this is surely their greatest triumph.

The entire race, as it unfolded, is in the post below, where I made real-time comments.  Feel free to relive the final event of the London Games' athletic programme

Live splits

Welcome to the London Olympic marathon.  The race is underway, and over the next two hours, I'll post the 5km interval times and some thoughts on the race as it unfolds.

5km - 15:23, projecting 2:09:49
10km - 30:46, so another 15:23 split for the last 5km
15km - 44:58, the last 5km in 14:12. The chase pack is 13 secs back (45:11)
20km - 59:57. Last 5km in 14:59.  Chase pack is 14 seconds behind
Halfway - 1:03:15, with 16 seconds to the chase (1:03:31)
25km - 1:14:58, a 15:01 for the last 5km, and the gap is now 7 seconds
30km - 1:30:15, all together. Kipsang did 15:17, the rest 15:10 for last 5km
35km - 1:46:03. Last 5km in 15:48, the slowest of the race.
40km - 2:01:12. Last 5km in 15:09, and Kiprotich makes the gold-winning move
Finish - 2:08:01.  Last 2.2km in 6:49 (3:06/km)


Uganda have gold in the men's marathon, courtesy 23-year old Stephen Kiprotich.  The Ugandan made the race's decisive move at 37km, and ran the final 5km on his own, with the favored Kenyans in his wake.  His winning time was 2:08:01, quite a lot slower than the halfway split suggested, but it was a race of attrition and Kiprotich was its best survivor!

His final 2.2km were not spectacular (6:49, 3:06/km), but they didn't need to be - he had a substantial lead and managed to increase it to 26 seconds on the line.

Second went to Abel Kirui, proven championship runner, in 2:08:27, with bronze to early aggressor Kipsang in 2:09:37.

Incredible result, huge surprise, and Kenya finish the Games with only two golds, having expected so many more.


Stephen Kiprotich is now 19 seconds ahead of Kirui, with Kipsang a further 32 seconds back.  With only 2km to go, that's the gold medal for Uganda, barring an absolute disaster.

His last 5km were run in 15:09, a significant jump in pace from the preceding interval, run in 15:48.  Kiprotich looks good enough to extend that lead, let alone defend it, and Uganda are on their way to their most celebrated Olympic medal ever.


Stephen Kiprotich now was a lead that looks to be decisive, it's around 100m, and he shows no signs of coming back.  Amazing story.  Here's some information on the Ugandan:

He has a 2:07:20 PB in the marathon, run in Enschede in 2011.  He ran a 2:07:50 in Tokyo this year, and was 13th in the IAAF World Championships marathon last year (2:12:57).

His track credentials are nothing special (27:58), but that is likely because he's never run seriously for track times.  His half marathon PB is "only" 62:52, also nothing to scare the sub-60 min Kenyans into thinking he would be the man to beat them today.

He is only 23 years old, so new to the marathon, but this is just a remarkable run, one which has certainly taken me by surprise.  This will be one of the big surprises of the Games, if not Olympic marathon in recent memory, though this is a race that does tend to produce surprises.


Kiprotich has come back.  Incredible!  Having dropped off by 10 m at 35km, he has come back and made all those early projections look foolish.  He moved past the Kenyans at the 37km mark and soon opened a big, big lead.

Kirui is trying to give chase, but the response is slow.  If Kiprotich can hold this, he'll win gold for Uganda, and what an amazing story that will be.  Did anyone pick this?


As I typed that, it was Kipsang who moved clear again.  It's not a surge as much as a subtle increase in pace, but it was enough to gap Kirui, who is now running 5m back.  The elastic has not broken, but was certainly stretched.  They've now come back together.


The last five kilometers have been covered in 15:48, the slowest of the race by a considerable amount.  Yet despite that, the pace seems to have dropped Kiprotich of Uganda, and so Kirui and Kipsang, who have been talking to one another for most of the last five kilometers, seem to have sorted out gold and silver for Kenya.

Unless Kiprotich can claw his way back, that's how the final 7km will play out.  The pace is not likely to stay at that 15:48 level, it should get faster, so it will be a difficult ask.  Kipsang looks very fluid and may be the favourite now.


The "catch" came at about 27km, and Kipsang's "lonely vigil" suddenly became a threesome, as he was joined by Stephen Kiprotich and Abel Kirui.  The pace then held firm, which is not a surprise.  It's not as though Kipsang was cracking to allow the chase to catch him - his pace has held constant since the 15km mark, and they continue to run around 15km per 5km.

The medals will certainly come from these three, Abshero has continued to drop back, and is 46 seconds behind.  dos Santos of Brazil is another five seconds back and will probably take fourth place soon.  If anything happens to the front three, he's the likeliest other medal winner, but the three in front seem to have this race controlled and will probably fight out gold, silver and bronze.

If people think Kipsang has made his move in this race, they're wrong - he'll be a factor in the final 5km, I'm sure of it, because what he did is not much different to anyone else, and so he's in a good position right now.

Kirui looked spectacular in London when he surged, and then he exploded and finished terribly.  His turn of speed is perhaps the big danger for gold now.  I'd make him the favorite of the three.

The last 5km, from 25km to 30km, were run in 15:17 (for Kipsang, the chase is a little faster - 15:10).

The projected time, meanwhile, is 2:06:56, which means the Olympic record may still be on, but is slipping away right now.  If there are surges, they'll go quicker.


Abshero is gone!  So Ethiopia has lost its final medal contender before the 30km mark, and that is a surprise.  The chase is now Kirui and Kiprotich, with Kipsang ahead.  As expected, it's East Africa to the fore, but possibly, without Ethiopia.

Abshero's chance here relies on the pace dropping once Kipsang is caught, which looks like within the next few minutes.  A lull in the pace may allow him back, as we saw in the women's race where Arkhipova looked off the back a few times, but came back and fought for bronze.


Kipsang is still holding the lead, but the urgency in the chase group has begun to erode it.  It's now 7 seconds, and the last 5km were run in 15:01 by Kipsang, which means the chase group have run a 14:54.

What the chase has done is fragment, and it's now down to only three.  They are led by Stephen Kiprotich, who has been largely responsible for the increase in pace from behind.  The others are Abshero, the lone Ethiopian, and Abel Kirui.


The chase group is now starting to split too.  Stephen Kiprotich took the group through Leadenhall market very aggressively, and the compact group was suddenly stretched.  This is the pressure of Kipsang now filtering its way back to the chase, who have presumably recognized that they need to respond to bring that gap of 16 seconds down.

If anything, the gap is growing.  Perhaps Kipsang has done what he did in London earlier this year, surging at the half marathon mark.  The next split will be interesting.


Halfway has been reached in 1:03:15, with the chase group at 16 seconds down.  It's now a chase group of six, as Eritrea's Asmerom has also fallen off the pace.

The chase is now made of Feleke and Abshero of Ethiopia, Kirui of Kenya, Kiprotich of Uganda, dos Santos of Brazil and Mokoka of South Africa.  Although as I write that, dos Santos has begun to drop off the group and so it's down to five.

At the front, Kipsang stops to go back for his energy drink, which means he lost a second or two at the 22km water point.


Kipsang has relented only slightly, running the last five kilometers in 14:59.

That has helped him defend his lead, which now stands at 14 seconds.  That chase group is now down to seven, with Emmanuel Mutai dropping off the back.  He was the reserve added to the team after the withdrawal of Moses Mosop.  Many felt that Geoffrey Mutai would have been a better pick. Hindsight is easy of course, but I suspect those calls now seem a little insightful.

Meanwhile, the stretch from 17 to 18km claimed two of the three Americans in the race.  First Ryan Hall stopped, holding his right hamstring, it seemed.  Then Abdirahman stopped, so only Keflezighi is left now.


Wilson Kipsang, winner of the 2012 London marathon, has opened a lead of 13 seconds over a chase group of 8.  All the main protagonists are there with the exception of Dino Sefir, who fell out of the group at about 10km.  The chase thus comprises two Ethiopians (Abshero & Feleke), two Kenyans (Mutai and Kirui), an Eritrean (Asmerom), a South African (Mokoka), a Ugandan (Kiprotich) and a Brazilian (dos Santos).

The last 5km were run in 14:12, which explains that huge explosion in the race from 10km onwards.  The time now projects a 2:06:29, but don't expect the next 10km to be run at the same pace, of course.  The Olympic record of Wanjiru is probably still on, however.

Fascinating battle here, because the pressure has been applied by the race favourite.

The pressure has put paid to everyone else - Ryan Hall and Keflezighi are off the back, and they'll hope to run their own race for something in the range of 2:08, and hope that the early pace claims some victims.


Kipsang has actually created a small gap, and we are only at 12km.  Amazing early aggression.  It was expected that Kenya would try to assert control on the race, but to do it this early is very surprising.  They took the lead shortly after 10km, once De Almeida had been caught, and the field split almost instantly.  Sefir and Ryan Hall were the first casualties, but now many have been dropped.

The front of the race has been trimmed to just over a handful, but Kipsang has pulled Abshero clear and there are gaps.  Kipsang is 10m clear of Abshero who is 5m clear of the chase group of maybe six.

Abshero has now fallen back into the pack, and there are now 7 men chasing the leader Kipsang, whose lead has grown to perhaps 7 or 8 seconds.


In the battle of Ethiopia and Kenya, it's first blood Kenya, and that's because Ethiopia's Dino Sefir is off the back of the group.  And so is Ryan Hall.  That's very surprising, because we're only at 11km, and the pace is "only" 2:09:49, yet two of the pre-race favourites are already off the back.

At the front, Kenya have again assumed the lead, with Kipsang pressing the pace.  It certainly seems to have gotten faster, because the front group has been cut to about 12 men already.


There is a breakaway leader, about 50m off the front of the main field.  It's Brazil's De Almeida, but the time for the main group is 30: . That's a 15:23 for the last 5km, identical to the first 5km.  So even paced as can be.

Remember back to the women's race - the pace was very steady for the first half, and then when it picked up, it didn't reach the same kinds of speeds we are used to seeing in the city marathons.  That's a function of the tight turns on the course, and the change in surfaces, which let some of the athletes to call it the hardest race they'd ever run.  That will be a significant factor in the second half of this race.

Right now, it's all rather sedate.


The 5km mark is reached in 15:23, and the Africans are already showing at the front.  Maybe the Kenyans are borrowing from Beijing, where Wanjiru's aggression perhaps changed the way marathons are run.  They're at the front, but the group is big, because the pace is respectable, but not super fast.  Right now, it's projecting a 2:09:49.

Start and preview

The race has been billed as a clash between Kenya and Ethiopia.  2011 was of course Kenya's year - all  20 of the top times were run by Kenyans in an unparalleled show of dominance by one nation.  That included the winners of every single major city marathon, and the world record.

2012 has been more evenly matched - Ethiopia stole the Dubai marathon with a host of fast times, and then also won Rotterdam, and set this race up beautifully.  More on the protagonists as the race unfolds, but it seems that most are forecasting this as a Kenya vs Ethiopia showdown, with Abshero and Kipsang their likeliest champions.  The Americans, in the form of Hall and Keflezighi in particular, may disrupt the battle in the same what that Arkhiopova did in the women's race.

My initial thought is that Ethiopia should be favoured, because their athletes last raced in late January in Dubai, compared to the Kenyans who raced in April in London's city marathon.

For example, Ayele Absehero and Dino Sefer of Ethiopia have had 198 days since their last marathon, whereas Wilson Kipsang has had 112 days.  Those 86 days matter in a race this competitive.  (Thanks, by the way, to Wayne Do Rego for the numbers - I'll do a proper post with his analysis after the race!)

This, plus the fact that it has been a very poor Games for Kenya lead me to think that Ethiopia hold the cards here.  Kenya's athletes have, to me, seemed over-done and tactically poor.  They've been run out of medals in the women's 800m and men's 1500m and 10,000m races, and have seen their big favourites settle for minor medals.  Turning that around will be difficult.

We are coming up to five kilometers, however, in a big group, so let's get the projections going!