Even before this race began early on Sunday morning in Sapporo, Olympic champion and world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge was on a pedestal above all other marathoners in the long history of the sport.

The great Kenyan, who won Olympic 5000m bronze in 2004 and 5000m silver in 2008, won his fourth Olympic medal as he joined Abebe Bikila [1960 and 1964] and Waldemar Cierpinski [1976 and 1980] as double Olympic marathon winners. But those athletes never dominated their sport in the same way the 36-year-old has.

Multiple world records, a paced sub-two-hour run and four London Marathon wins have made him the No.1 marathoner in history. Competing on the final day of these Games on Sunday, he bounced back from a shock London loss last year to decimate his opponents.

He won in 2:08:28 with a 63:05 second half despite searing heat and humidity which led to a large number of drop-outs.

With a winning margin of 80 seconds – up on his 72 seconds from 2016 – it was the biggest since Frank Shorter’s 1972 win in Munich when the American won by over two minutes.

Chris Thompson was the sole British finisher, battling his way through to finish 54th in 2:21:29. But Callum Hawkins, who was fourth at the 2019 World Championships in Doha and ninth in the Rio Olympics, left the course on a wheelchair due to an ankle injury. GB team-mate Ben Connor suffered in the conditions and also dropped out.

There was a British connection with the silver and bronze medallists, though, as Gary Lough was involved in the training of runner-up Abdi Nageeye of Netherlands and Bashir Abdi of Belgium, who did wonders for Dutch-Belgian relations by helping each other as Europe ended what has been a great championships.

Nageeye was 11th in Rio and had a 2:06:17 PB, while Somalian born Abdi was second in the Tokyo Marathon in 2020 and had a 2:04:49 PB. Yet few expected those two to share the podium.

European success in this event and elsewhere at the Games was in contrast to Ethiopia, who started well with a 10,000m win from Selemon Barega but ended disastrously with three drop-outs despite having a history that includes four Olympic marathon victories.

The weather conditions were seemingly marginally better than the women’s race when the runners started, but the huge number of drop-outs suggested otherwise or maybe it was the fast pace.

Germany’s Amanal Petros led through 5km in 15:18 with Kipchoge 11th in 15:19 as 54 were in the pack. At this stage Hawkins was towards the back of the group 52nd in 15:23 whereas Thompson and Connor had decided to go off more steadily and were 96th and 97th in 16:08.

In the 10th kilometre Shura Kitata – the London Marathon winner from Ethiopia – stopped and started feeling his hamstring and then began walking and he was the race’s first major casualty.

As they passed 10km, Kipchoge was ahead in 30:53 [15:30 for that 5km] with a pack of 47 as Hawkins sat behind on 30:59 [15:36].

Uganda’s 2012 Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich was 73rd in 31:34 but he stopped and walked for a few strides at 12km and then withdrew from the race.

Connor was now 82nd in 32:30 [16:21] and Thompson 96th in 32:35 [16:26] with their splits showing the effects of the biggest climb of the race.

Brazil’s Daniel Do Nascimento, the youngest in the race, led the large leading pack through 15km in 46:01 [15:08 5km] with Hawkins drifting on and off the back of the group in 46:08 [15:09] in 43rd.

Connor was still 82nd in 48:25 [15:55] with Thompson 85th in 48:28 [15:53].

As they approached the one-hour mark the Brazilian and Kipchoge headed the field and exchanged a fist pump in front of a smiling Galen Rupp, the Rio bronze medallist from the United States.

Colombian Jeison Alexander Suarez was also prominent in the early stages and he led at 20km in 61:47 [a slow 15:46]. Despite there being no pace increase the group had now been whittled down to 33 with Canadian Cam Levins the last of that pack. Hawkins was 40th and in sight of the group in 62:03 [15:55]. Two minutes back, Connor [84th in 65:01 – 16:36] and Thompson (86th in 65:02 – 16:34) were together.

By now Ireland’s Stephen Scullion had joined the growing list of drop outs. Scullion had a rollercoaster ride to the Games after initially withdrawing from the team due to mental health issues. Close to the Games he decided to run but pulled out before halfway citing the “brutal” conditions.

As the leaders passed halfway in 65:13, South African Stephen Mokoka headed a 31-strong group. Hawkins was 39th in 65:40 and Connor and Thompson were 83rd and 84th in 68:42 and 68:43.

Ethiopia’s disappointment continued, however, as London Marathon third-placer Sisay Lemma dropped out leaving just one Ethiopian in the race.

Kipchoge led through 25km in 77:24 [15:37] but, behind, Hawkins was slowing and struggling in 47th in 78:39 [16:36]. Meanwhile, Thompson was 79th in 81:28 [16:26] and moving away from Connor in 83rd in 1:22:07 [17:06].

Do Nascimento, who had been right at the head of the field, suddenly seemed to fall and looked dazed and got up and ran fast for a while but then slumped to the ground again and quickly got medical attention. An extra problem appeared to be that one of the medical attendants had to stop treating the Brazilian and chase after his electric car which suddenly started moving!

At 30km, Kipchoge was beginning to think about making his class tell and he was ahead in 1:32:31 [15:07] alongside his compatriots Lawrence Cherono and Amos Kipruto, plus Nageeye, Abdi, Rupp, Spain’s Ayad Lamdassam, Japan’s Suguru Osako and Moroccan Othmane El Goumri, who had a small gap over Morhad Amdouni of France.

Hawkins had by now pulled out but Thompson was up to 69th in 1:38:21 (16:53) with Connor 80th in 1:41:13 (19:06).

Short after Kipchoge kicked away and left his opponents in his wake and the lead pack split to smithereens.

By the time he reached 35km in 1:46:59 you could see why the field had broken up so spectacularly – he had covered that 5km in a vicious 14:28 which was 2:02 pace and a speed no one else looked remotely capable of trying to emulate in these conditions.

Four athletes remained in medal contention – Cherono, Landassam and Abdi, who were all on 1:47:26 and three seconds ahead of Nageeye.

Tanzania’s Alphonse Felix Simbu was now sixth [1:47:41] ahead of Doha bronze medallist Kipruto [1:47:43], Osako [1:47:50] and Rupp in ninth [1:48:06], whereas Thompson was now up to 62nd in 1:55:55 [17:34].

Kipruto and world champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia also joined the ever growing number of drop-outs.

Kipchoge hit 40km in 2:01:55 and had a huge lead, having covered the previous 5km in 14:56 and 10km in 29:24.

The quartet of Cherono, Lamdassem, Nageeye and Abdi on 2:03:12 for a 15:46 split and chasing hard was Osako in 2:03:30, who was well clear of Simbu [2:04:04] and Rupp [2:04:27] now up to eighth.

Thompson was through in 59th in 2:13:38 [17:43].

Kipchoge eased to a seemingly untroubled victory, looking like he was out a gentle Sunday run, and was able to celebrate well before the line.

After the race he said: “I want to thank the organisers of Tokyo 2021 and I’m happy to defend my title and show the next generation if you respect the sport and be disciplined you can accomplish your assignment.

“These Games mean there is hope and we are on a transition and the right track to a normal life. Thanks to all the fans on the course and the millions who will watch it. It was not easy and it was hard for everyone but I was happy to cross the line. ”

There was a big battle for second which went down to the wire. This was won by Nageeye, who spent more effort in encouraging his training partner Abdi, whose last race in turn was encouraging Mo Farah in the British Trials 10,000m, than he did in his own run.

Nageeye ran 2:09:59 and Abdi 2:10:00 as they finished just ahead of Kenya’s Cherono on 2:10:02.

Lamdassam made it three European nations in the top five with 2:10:16 while Osako led the home nation in sixth in 2:10:41. Simbu was seventh in 2:11:35 just ahead of Rupp on 2:11:41 in eighth. Koen Naert was 10th in 2:12:13 to give Belgium two in the top 10.

After Scullion’s withdrawal, Irish team-mates Kevin Seaward and Paul Pollock finished in 58th in 2:21:45 and 71st in 2:27:48.

Completing the race 16 seconds ahead of Seaward, the lone British finisher Thompson said: “That last six to eight miles was one of the emotionally toughest things I’ve done running-wise.

“You go through a lifetime of emotions in two hours – you really go to some weird places – and you feel like you can’t do it. I’m really proud I got to the end.

“There was a couple of times where I felt like I could barely lift my legs. That’s the first time I’ve felt that so-called wall. On reflection I think it was dehydration and complete sugar depletion.”

Hawkins said he had been troubled with an ankle problem during the last year and added: “I kept getting slower, couldn’t put any power through my ankle. I probably went through a bit of a bad patch at 18, 19km, and then from there my ankle just got worse and worse. It’s just been a really bad year for me, to be honest.”

Connor dropped out around 30-32km and said: “Obviously it was hot, but my legs just couldn’t run. I don’t know what it was. It was really humid.

“I did everything I could in terms of taking on water, but at 25km my legs just went and once they go in a marathon there’s no way of bringing them back unfortunately.

“I definitely need a break as it’s been three marathons in 10 months now.”

Source: AW