Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana won Sunday’s Summer Olympics women’s marathon in a race-record 2 hours, 23 minutes, 7 seconds in London to lead a field of 116, the largest in Olympic history. She was followed by Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo in 2:23:12 and Tatyan Petrova Arkhipova of Russia third in 2:23:29. Race favorite Mary Keitany of Kenya was fourth.
American Shalane Flanagan was 10th in 2:25:51 and American Kara Goucher, a former Duluthian, was 11th in 2:26:07. It was the first Olympic marathon for the American training partners from Portland, Ore.
It was the third Olympics for Flanagan, 31, and the second for Goucher, 34, who both previously were in track events. In 2008 in Beijing, China, Flanagan was third at 10,000 meters, while Goucher was ninth at 5,000 meters and 10th at 10,000 meters.
“I’ve got to be honest, when I saw her [Shalane] with two miles to go, it actually broke my spirit. Because I thought one of us had a shot. People mess up, and I’ve trained so hard. I didn’t even know women trained the way that I’ve trained with Shalane. I didn’t know it existed. And I really thought that with the right window of opportunity, one of us could deliver and unfortunately it didn’t come to be,” Goucher told USA Track and Field.
“A championship race is just different. It was good for Shalane and I. We had no intention of leading and matching everyone else’s cadence, but we decided to stay up front because it was clean. Both times I tried to go back to the second and third row, I got pushed and grunted at and stepped on, so I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll go ahead and lead the Olympic marathon. I mean, I have no shot of winning this but I’ll lead as long as they let me.’
“I never really gave up. Every time I tried to press in that last lap, my back just hurt so bad. It was really frustrating. [The cramps] started in adductors of right calf and then it went to my back. I haven’t cramped since I ran the NYC Marathon. I honestly haven’t felt that kind of pain since I pushed out a baby. I’m serious. Shalane cramped very badly as well – same place, so we’re both a little confused and annoyed.
The race started with rain and 64 degrees and finished in sun on a technically-difficult, many-turns course over 26.2 miles.
Goucher has a personal best of 2:24:52 and Flanagan 2:25:38.
“There were some really tough spots. It was tough just to let people pass me, and I had no oomph to go with them. I tried to react, like in a track race, but it is really different for me in the marathon. You already have a lot of miles in your legs and it is so, so, so hard. I could feel myself cramping, but it is what it is. The fans were amazing; I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts. The fans were just deafening. It was a lot of fun besides cramping and feeling awful.
“I just was hoping I could chomp away and get closer, and I did at times, and I fell off at times. I was yo-yo-ing all over the place.
“One minute I was wearing my hat, the next minute I felt hot in it. But you know it was like Portland weather, I’m not fazed by it. It’s like home.
“Kara and I prepared our bodies and our minds the best we could, and we knew that on any given day we are both really good competitors and can run with the best. The ultimate goal was to get on the podium. This is my third marathon and I’m learning every time. I’ve got to make some mistakes to get to that level.”
The third American runner, Desiree Davila, dropped out at five kilometers with an injury that occurred before the Olympic Games.
“Obviously I’m coming in a little beat up and injured, and this was the first day of really testing it out on solid ground, and you don’t know what you are going to get. I made it to 2.2 [miles] which is the first loop,” said Davila. “I could tell on the first turn that it wasn’t going to be right today. You know, you can’t fake the marathon, and that is where we get our confidence, from training and knowing what it means and training hard. All of that has been missing by running on an Alter-G for basically the last month.
“I’ve been training for this race for the past three months, and I ran into a problem a month out. I’ve been training through pain and having ups and downs and highs and lows. I do feel like you have to cross the line to be an Olympian and to have that title. And I feel like I’ve earned that, obviously throughout my entire career, but the last month especially. I’ve put everything I’ve had in to getting here and hopefully getting the health and the fitness.
“That was one of the hardest things getting to the start knowing that there was a really good chance I would DNF, and I’ve never done that before. I don’t really know how to do that.”