RIO DE JANEIRO — The favourite Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya won the Olympic marathon on Sunday, drawing away over the final four miles to win in two hours, eight minutes, 44 seconds.
Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia took second in 2:09:54, while Galen Rupp of the United States won the bronze medal in 2:10:05, his personal best.
Kenya swept both marathons at the Rio Games. Jemima Sumgong won the women’s 26.2-mile race, becoming the first Kenyan woman to win a gold medal in the event.
“It is amazing for us,” Kipchoge, 31, said. “Kenyans will be very happy. This is history, the first time the women and the men win” in the same Olympics “and it is the best moment of my life.”
Meanwhile, silver medallist Lilesa protested the brutal police crackdowns in Ethiopia of the Oromo people by crossing his arms above his head when he crossed the finish line and later at a press conference.
“The Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe,” Lilesa said. “My relatives are in prison, and if they talk about democratic rights, they are killed. I raised my hands to support with the Oromo protest.”
At 35 kilometres, or 21.7 miles of the men’s race, Kipchoge held a lead of only 1 second over Lilesa and Rupp. Rupp seemed in position to perhaps become the first American man to win the Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter in 1972.
But this was only the second marathon run by Rupp, who made his debut at the Olympic trials in February. He had finished fifth in the 10,000 metres in Rio after winning a silver medal in the event at the 2012 London Olympics. Maybe running two races here sapped some endurance from Rupp’s legs. Sunday, he began to fall back.
At one point, Kipchoge motioned to Lilesa, 26, to help him share the lead. Lilesa would not or could not. And so Kipchoge drew away, winning by more than a minute and making his claim as the greatest marathon runner ever. He has won seven of the eight marathons he has entered.
“It was a championship, and it was a bit slow so I decided to take over,” Kipchoge said. “Maybe it was the rain, maybe not. Everyone wants a medal. I was coming here for gold.”
In April, he had come within 8 seconds of the world record at the London Marathon, running his personal best of 2:03:05 on a cool, blustery day. Last fall, while winning the Berlin Marathon, Kipchoge might have set the world record, but the insoles came out of his Nike shoes.
There was no chance of a world record at the Olympic marathon, which lacked pacesetters, had some sharp turns and where an early morning rain left the temperature in the 70s and muggy.
At the halfway point, a group of two dozen runners was within the lead at 1:05:55. But the lead pack was down to nine runners at 30 km (18.6 miles). By 20 1/2 miles, the race was left to Kipchoge, Lilesa and Rupp to decide the medals between them.
“I was emotionally drained after the 10K, but I got it out of the system and decided to have an attacking race,” Rupp, 30 said. “Maybe this is my best event.”