The group consisted of runners believed to be the top medal contenders, as well as the best British entrant. Despite a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and a first-place finish in the 2009 New York City Marathon, Keflezighi was not included. And that perceived snub pushed him to fourth place in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 6 seconds, a very satisfying finish considering injuries derailed his training this spring.
“None of those guys had what I have and to not be introduced like that it definitely hurts,” said Keflezighi, who finished strong. “Whether people like it or not, 99.9 [percent] of my career has been fulfilled. I have accomplished what I want to accomplish. I’m very proud. All that comes from hard work. Nothing is given to you, handed to you. It’s all about perseverance.”
With humid conditions and temperatures in the mid-70s, the men’s marathon was a test of perseverance ultimately won by Stephen Kiprotich in 2:08.01, earning Uganda its first Olympic medal in any sport since the 1996 Atlanta Games and its second Olympic gold ever. The country’s first came at the 1972 Munich Games in the men’s 400-meter hurdles. Kenya’s Abel Kirui took silver in 2:08.27 and his countryman Wilson Kipsang earned bronze in 2:09.37. It was the seventh time one country came away from the Olympic men’s marathon with two medals.
Around the 8-mile mark, prerace favorite Kipsang made a move and thinned out the field. But a little more than 16 miles into the race, Kirui and Kiprotich were back in the gold-medal mix. With a surge 4 miles from the finish, Kiprotich distanced himself from the Kenyan pair. He created a large enough gap to grab a Ugandan flag and cross the finish line with it.
“The pace was not too fast and I knew I could not run away from [the Kenyans], so I just had to keep up with them,” said Kiprotich. “Then, I had to break away because I wanted to win this medal.”
Keflezighi was the lone American finisher, as both Hall and Abdi Abdirahman dropped out around the 11-mile mark. Hall suffered a right hamstring injury, and Abdirahman dealt with right knee pain during the race.
“I thought I was going to make a move at 13 miles, but something happened,” said Abdirahman. “There was just this pop in my knee, I don’t know what it is, but it just popped when we turned and I tried to run a couple more miles, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was the hardest thing for me to do, but at the same time I didn’t want to push it and limp in dead last. That’s not what I was here for. The best thing for me was to shut it down.”
Hall, in approximately 50th place when he stopped, felt his hamstring become increasingly tighter as the race progressed.
“I felt like I was really favoring my stride and didn’t want to get injured,” said Hall. “I’ve never DNF’d a race before, so this is a first for me. Not finishing a race is not an option unless I think I’m going to do serious damage to my career. Those last couple of miles I’m weighing in my head, ‘do I sit out here and could I have run 26 miles and finish in 3 hours or something.’ But my stride was getting worse and worse. This wasn’t something I could work through.”
So, it was left to Keflezighi, 37, to carry on for the American contingent and complete the race that twisted past famous London landmarks.
“You saw the heart of a champion,” said Keflezighi’s coach Bob Larsen. “When you have won a silver medal and New York, you don’t have to do what you saw out there today. He’s born with it. I saw it in his workouts. He doesn’t give up.”
The marathon marked the official end of the track and field competition at the London Olympics. And although Eritrean-born Keflezighi didn’t add to the US medal total, American runners, jumpers, and throwers posted an impressive showing. The US finished with 29 medals (9 gold, 13 silver, 7 bronze), the most since the 1992 Barcelona Games, which were affected by the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Russia finished second in the track medal count with 18 and, led by Usain Bolt, Jamaica was third with 12.
Keflezighi figures London will be his last Olympic appearance, but he is not retiring or ruling out the Olympic trials in 2016. He would like to stand on the Boston Marathon starting line next spring and be the first man down Boylston Street. He finished fifth at the 2010 Boston Marathon in 2:09:26.
“Of the 99.9 [percent] I have accomplished, Boston is one thing I haven’t done and I would love to have the opportunity,” said Keflezighi. “I wish I would have won Boston. But if I get the opportunity, I would love to be there. I hope I get that chance. This is probably going to be my last shot [at it] next year.”
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.