When Peres Jepchirchir ran a 2:47:33 marathon debut in 2013 followed by a 2:46:15 in 2018, no one would have predicted three years later she would become Olympic champion over 26.2 miles.

A 2:23:50 win at Saitima in 2019 suggested she could be a factor, though, which was advanced greatly by a 2:17:16 win in Valencia in 2020 – a performance which sewed up her selection for the Games. She did not race at all in 2021, however, until winning gold here.

While she is a relative marathon novice, she is not at half-marathon where she has run 65:06 and 65:16 world records and won the half-marathon title. Racing in Sapporo early on Saturday morning, she proved too strong for world record-holder Brigid Kosgei as she covered the second half in 72:06, three minutes faster than the first.

US trials runner-up and relative marathon novice Molly Seidel was a surprise third. The former NCAA 10,000m champion was running her first major international event and was close to Kosgei even though her PB was over 10 minutes slower! She set her PB in London in 2020 where she finished sixth.

The race started gently in temperatures around 27C and 80% humidity at 6am – an hour earlier than planned due to it being warmer than than expected – and the temperatures climbed throughout the race making it a true ordeal.

Athletes were handed bags of ice and many tried various methods of balancing or placing the ice on their forehead.

Honami Maeda, a 2:23:30 runner who was second in Osaka, was the early leader, running out on her own but she was soon reeled in.

As they hit 5km, world champion Ruth Chepngetich and race favourite Kosgei were the official leaders in 18:02 as they came to the front to get a clear run-up to the feed station, although the lead pack numbered 76 and was spread over 18 seconds with the three Brits toward the second half of the group from 42nd to 68th.

The pace picked up a little on a climb but as they reached 10km, the watch revealed a slightly slower second 5km of 18:12 and this time it was Jepchirchir (36:16) who was in front alongside European 10,000m champion Lonah Chemtal Salpeter of Israel.

The lead pack now numbered 46 over two seconds.

Britain’s Jess Piasecki was at the back in 44th in 36:17, while British trials winner Stephanie Davis was 73rd in 36:46 and 2008 Olympic 1500m runner Steph Twell was clearly struggling and was 81st in 37:25 having taken 19:08 for that section.

There were 86 still running according to the stats although it seems Ayuko Suzuki had lost her chip as she was no longer showing on the computer.

The pace did pick up a little through 15km with Chepngetich still officially first in 53:47 alongside 2019 London third-placer and 2:18:30 marathoner Roza Dereje. That 5km occupied just 17:31 – over 30 seconds faster than the previous fastest.

The head pack now numbered 36 with again Piasecki at the back of that group in 53:53 (17:36). Well placed in the top 10 was 2004 Olympic 1500m runner Malindi Elmore of Canada. Davis was 70th in 55:01 (18:15) and Twell 80th in 57:33 (20:08).

Ethiopia’s 2:19:28 marathoner Zeineaba Yimer, who has a 2:19:28 PB, became one of the race’s first major casualties around the hour mark and pulled out.

The group was dispersing and 2:17:45 runner Salpeter was ahead at 71:27 with 16 runners slightly ahead of Elmore (71:35) in 17th. That 5km was 17:40.

Running well, Piasecki was 25th in 71:43 alongside Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack and Australian Sinead Diver, having run 17:50. Davis was up to 65th in 73:36 (18:35) but Twell was 83rd in 1:20:42 after a 23:09 5km split but was plugging on.

Two kilometres later it was Jepchirchir (75:14) who was at the head of the field at the halfway mark with 11 now slightly clear – Dereje, Salpeter, Kosgei, Japan’s 2:20:29 performer Mao Ichiyama, Seidel and Sally Kipyego, Chepngetich, Germany’s Neleta Kejeta, Bahrain’s Eunice Chumba and Namibian Helalia Johannes.

They had five seconds on Ethiopia’s Birhane Dibaba, who led a reasonable sized chase pack. Piasecki was 26th in 75:40 with Davis 65th (77:41) and Twell was 80th in 84:57.

Jepchirchir was the official leader at 25km in 1:28:51 with a 17:24 section – again the fastest yet – with 12 now in it with Belarus’s Rio fifth-placer Volha Mazuronak joining the lead group after a 17:20.

Switzerland’s European steeplechase medallist Fabienne Schlumpf (1:28:57) was five seconds back.

Piasecki had drifted back to 38th in 1:30:39 with an 18:56 5km section, with Davis going the other way in 58th in 1:32:10 after an 18:34 5km split.

Twell was 76th in 1:40:36 (with a much quicker 19:54 5km section).

At 29km, Chepngetich surprisingly dropped off the group. At 30km, Jepchirchir was the leader in 1:46:04 (faster still at 17:13) and it was down to nine with a gap to the Kenyan on 1:46:15 and she was alongside Mazuronak with a gap to USA’s former Kenyan Kipyego on 1:46:40.

Immaculate Chemutai was next on 1:46:48 ahead of Schlumpf (1:46:54) and Elmore (1:46:55).

Davis had advanced further to 51st in 1:50:42 (18:32) and was holding the pace well but Piasecki was really struggling and was 65th in 1:53:11 (22:32) with Twell 74th in 2:02:03 (21:27).

In the 34th kilometre as it came to around two hours of running it was down to five and the splits confirmed the speed was picking up even more with Kosgei on 2:02:58 (16:43) alongside Jepchirchir, Seidel (who had done much of the leading), Salpeter and Chumba.

Dereje (2:03:10), Kejeta and Ichiyama (2:03:25), Mazuronak (2:03:39) and Johannes (2:03:58) were struggling but there was a big gap to Elmore (2:04:45).

Davis was now up to 44th in 2:09:14 and scything her way through the field after an 18:32 5km split.

Piasecki was 65th in 2:20:10 (26:59) and Twell 72nd in 2:23:28 (21:25).

Shortly afterwards, Chumba dropped off and then at 37km it was Seidel, who was running way above what you’d expect from a 2:25:13 runner, who dropped back.

Shortly after that Salpeter had to give way and Seidel revived and soon got back to the Israeli who, as the American edged ahead, gave up and stopped her watch.

It was now seemingly down to the two Kenyans with Jepchirchir ahead of Kosgei but Seidel was holding the gap.

At 40km the Kenyans were on 2:19:59 (17:01) with Seidel on 2:20:05 now with a 31-second gap to Dereze (2:20:36) who was well clear of Chumba (2:21:11), Mazuronak (2:21:17), Kejeta (2:21:27), Johannes (2:22:46) and Elmore (2:22:58) was now into the top 10. Davis had moved up to 40th in 2:28:06 (18:52).

Twell in 2:44:56 (21:28) was past Piasecki 2:45:13 (25:03).

During the 41st kilometre Jepchirchir kicked away with a long bouncy stride and looked like the gold was hers and she won by 16 seconds with a further 10-second gap to Seidel, who roared with delight as she crossed the finish line.

Dereje was fourth in 2:28:38 followed by Mazuronak, who matched her Rio run in 2:29:06, with Kejeta (2:29:16) and Chumba (2:29:36) the last of those inside 2:30.

Ichiyama led the Japanese challenge in eighth in 2:30:13 with former 1500m star Elmore a brilliant ninth in 2:30:59 with Diver ploughing through the field to conplete the top 10 in 2:31:14.

Ireland’s McCormack was 25th in 2:34:09 and Davis eased her way into the top 30 with a brilliant 2:36:33 in the conditions.

Both Twell (2:53:26 and 68th) and Piasecki 71st in 2:55:39 did well to finish after struggling so early in the race and the drop-outs included Chepngetich and two Ethiopians.

Source: AW