Ethiopia's Gelana wins marathon gold
Race started and finished in torrential rain
The women's Olympic marathon set off and finished in pouring rain on Sunday, and, as unpredictable as the British weather, Ethiopia's Tika Gelana upset the favored Kenyans.
It was the second long-distance battle the Ethiopians won over the Kenyans at the games, and just as Tirunesh Dibaba made her finishing kick count in the 10,000-meters on the track, Gelana left it until late to kick for the line.
With clenched teeth she sprinted along the glistening Mall to finish in 2 hours, 23 minutes and seven seconds, an Olympic record, leaving Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya with silver. Russian former steeplechaser Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova was the surprise bronze medalist.
Gelana found time to blow a kiss before crossing the finish line with her arms aloft and falling to the wet, red tarmac, exhausted.
"As soon as the rain started, I said to myself 'Thank God'. I love running in the rain, I have been doing that since I was a small child," the 24-year-old Gelana said.
The Kenyans instead were ill-prepared for the downpours, including Mary Keitany, who has won the London Marathon twice over the last three years to establish her as a big favorite.
"I never competed in this type of rain," Keitany said, "not even in training."
Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Trafalgar Square and St. Paul's were all landmarks on the marathon route, but the true tourist attraction on Sunday was set to be the Olympic Stadium, which was to host the biggest duel of the games — Usain Bolt vs. Yohan Blake in the 100 meters.
The Kenyans were expected to get their first gold later Sunday in the steeplechase, where is hot talk of a sweep of the medals. Other finals in the track and field program include the women's 400 meters and triple jump and the men's hammer throw.
And after Britain's Super Saturday, highlighted by three golds for the host nation within an hour late in the evening, the fans in the 80,000-seat stadium should now hope for very un-British weather.
The Olympic marathon hasn't been run in conditions like this in recent games — instead of dealing with puddles, racers had to handle extreme heat in places like Beijing and Athens.
Much like the 10,000 on Friday night, the final stages of the marathon quickly turned into an East African battle with three Kenyans and two Ethiopians bunched together with a dozen kilometers to go.
Surprisingly though, Russian steeplechaser Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova joined the top bunch while world champion Edna Kiplagat briefly fell back, rallied to rejoin the leading group, then dropped behind again.
After Kenya swept the podium at last year's world championships in South Korea, losing the world champion was a first setback, but the team was confident Keitany would win. Gelana had never won a major title — her resume including two Dutch city marathons — and was expected to crumble under pressure.
In a show of teamwork, Jeptoo even went to get Keitany water with as little as the kilometers to go, but soon afterward Jeptoo was the only Kenyan hope.
"I didn't want to leave them behind, but when I saw them fade I thought 'I have to stay on' because the Ethiopan and also the Russian were very strong," Jeptoo said.
The Olympic marathon missed the greatest of all after Britain's world record holder Paula Radcliffe had to pull out a week before the London Games because of a foot injury.