09 August 2021, 3pm
Women’s Olympic Marathon
Sat 7 August 2021
She beat her compatriot, race favourite and world record holder Brigid Kosgei, by pushing on ahead of her rival just after 40km and opening up a gap which grew to 80m by the finish line. Molly Seidel, an unheralded American running only her third Marathon, came in third a further 50m behind.
Despite the change of venue, the day before the women’s race officials saw that temperatures after 09.00 were projected to rise over 31C. With remarkable speed a decision was made to pull back the start time from 07.00 to 06.00 and communicated to the runners before they slept.
88 competitors lined up at the start with the temperature already at 25C – and set to rise to 30C by the finish. It was a cautious start as the race favourites clustered at the front and passed through the first 5km in 18.02. The processional pace was maintained through 10km as a huge group of 47 tightly-packed runners passed through in 36:16 (18:14 5km split).. The race continued sedately, with 5km splits of 17:31 and 17:40, to reach halfway in 1:15:14. Up to this point the pace had been set by the race favourites which, as well as Jepchirchir and Kosgei, included world record holder for the half marathon Ruth Chepngetich and Lonah Salpeter, running for Israel, who had recorded the second-fastest time of 2020 behind Jepchirchir.
Seidel had remained in the pack and not yet made her presence felt but as she explained in a post-race interview: “We didn’t go out super-fast and I kept it very controlled at the beginning. After halfway, rather than follow, I wanted to make moves and be aggressive.” Despite the slowish pace the lead group had been reduced to 11 with Seidel now prominent among them, leading through 25km in 1:28:51 (5km split of 17.24).By 30km, reached with a 5km split of 17:13, Jepchirchir had taken up the pace and led eight others – but these did not include Chepngetich who now trailed by 5 seconds and was soon to drop out.
Seidel continued to push and by 35km, after the fastest 5km split of the race (16:54), only Salpeter and Eunice Chumba, running for Bahrain, were still with the eventual medallists. They tailed off before 40km was reached, and Seidel herself now lagged the Kenyan pair by 6 seconds, after a 5km split of 17:01.
Neither of the two Kenyans looked comfortable in the closing stages and Jepchirchir confirmed after the race that “It was so hot; it was not easy.” Even so, it was she who managed to open up a gap on Kosgei and propel herself to the finish line by channelling the realisation: “wow, I’m going to make it, I’m going to win”.
Despite the steadily rising temperatures throughout the race the slow start helped the first eight finishers to record a faster second half, with Jepchirchir’s being almost three minutes faster.