I’ve found the general public has this perception that distance races are just about a bunch of guys running beside each independently in a time trial of sorts, all trying to break the world record, with the final places simply the result of how fast each athlete ran. It fact, championship races like last nights Men’s Olympic 10,000 meters are usually tactical battles, full of changes of pace to throw off competitors with lots of jostling for position. Elite runners often train to handle and dish out surges in the race, and still develop the necessary finishing kick for victory. So it’s too bad the Men’s 10,000 didn’t get more Olympic press as this race had everything including the requisite American in the thick of things.
I could have hung with the pack for the first couple laps, dislocated shoulder and all, as slow as the opening pace was. Eventually things speeded up, with lots of tactical running to control the pace, and plenty of pushing and shoving the whole 25 laps. Great Britain’s Mo Farrah seemed to be the target of much of this, mostly dished out by the Ethopians and Kenyans, who’ve respective perfected these team tactics in championships races decades ago. Perhaps by design, the pace never intensified to whittle down many of the competitors, and I counted 10 runners within striking distance of the lead when Farrah, who was hanging around in the top five all race, jumped into the lead just before the bell lap and held on to win the Gold in front of his home country. And wasn’t it nice to see Galen Rupp up with the leaders with a lap to go, who unlike many US Olympians before him, didn’t totally fall off the pace when everyone was going for it and even (gasp!) passed Ethiopian Teraku Bekele to grab the silver? Alberto Salazar, who coached both Farrah and Rupp, earned some Olympic redemption from his disappointing marathon in the 1984 Olympics, when he had become a shell of his former invincible self.
As for the Women’s Marathon, it was the tightest finish in the short history of the women’s Olympic marathon, which dates back to 1984. While not at dramatic as the men’s 10,000 meters, the race started slowly, before the field started ticking off 5:30 miles before a key surge at mile 15 by Kenyan Edna Kiplagat scattered the 20 women pack. Tiki Gelana and Mara Dibaba of Ethopian and Kenyan’s Priscah Jetpoo, Kiplagat, and Mary Keitany formed the lead pack of five, but Kiplagat soon fell off the pace.
It got interesting as Russian Tetyana Petrova Arkhipova reeled in the leaders from no-women’s-land (OK, ten seconds behind) with about 6 miles to go as Dibaba fell back. Petrova Arkhipova looked strong and with her steeplechase credentials, seemed dangerous. But in the end, her Ethopia’s Tiki Gelana proved to have too much, surging to take the Gold with less than a mile to, beating Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya by just five seconds in Olympic Record time. Petrova Arkhipova proved to be a bit out of her league against runners with faster marathon times, but still picked up the Bronze, with Keitany the odd woman out. American Shalane Flanagan looked like she was going to finish an impressive fifth place, before fading in the last three miles to cross the finish line in very respectable tenth.
Just watching these races makes me want to get back in enough shape so that I can at least start shuffling around in some neighborhood 10k.