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Shalane Flanagan sixth in Olympic marathon, Kenya’s Jemima Sumgong wins gold

Jelagat Sumgong’s win was Kenya’s first gold of the Rio Olympics.
Jelagat Sumgong’s win was Kenya’s first gold of the Rio Olympics.BERND THISSEN/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

RIO DE JANEIRO — As the lead pack in the women’s marathon finished three oceanside loops and headed back toward the Sambódromo, Shalane Flanagan was in medal contention. Even beneath a white visor and sunglasses, she looked determined, running side by side with competitors from Kenya, Ethiopia, Bahrain, and Belarus. She also looked physically strong and largely unaffected by the heat and temperatures in the high 70s

But during the turn-heavy final 7 kilometers, she lost contact with other top runners.

Over the last leg from the ocean to the finish line, the lead pack dwindled from seven to six to three — the three who would end up on the medal podium. Kenya’s Jemima Sumgong avoided one street-crossing fan and one protester on the way to victory in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 4 seconds, followed by Bahrain’s Eunice Kirwa (2:24:13) in second and Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba (2:24:30) in third.

Flanagan crossed the line sixth in 2:25:26, leading three top-10 finishes for the United States. Desiree Linden followed in seventh (2:26:08) and Amy Cragg in ninth (2:28:25).

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“The last 7K was very much technical and they threw in some good surges,” said Flanagan, who grew up in Marblehead, Mass. “I felt like I tried to cover the surges but I just obviously didn’t have the gear change quite as much as they did. I said, ‘Be patient, be patient, they may come back to you, and just never give up.’ . . . You never give up in a setting like this. you push for every spot and every second that you can get.”

Flanagan, her training partner Cragg, and Linden were particularly proud of placing three Americans in the top 10, better than any other country with three entrants. All three handled the hot, sunny conditions very well. And while a US medal in the women’s marathon has proved elusive since Deena Kastor won bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Sunday morning’s results demonstrate that the United States is becoming more of a major presence in the marathon, gaining ground on traditional powers Kenya and Ethiopia.

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“That’s unbelievable,” said Flanagan of the three top-10 US finishes. “I think that’s got to be the best we’ve ever done. I told Desi as soon as we finished, ‘I’m so proud of us.’ We came here ready to run hard and I felt like we did.”

Shalane Flanagan’s sixth place finish bested her 2012 London finish (10th place) but not her 2008 Beijing finish (bronze medal).
Shalane Flanagan’s sixth place finish bested her 2012 London finish (10th place) but not her 2008 Beijing finish (bronze medal).David Ramos/Getty Images

After Linden crossed the finish line right after Flanagan, the two runners hugged. And she told herself to enjoy the moment and celebrate. It was a far different experience from the 2012 London Olympics, when Linden did not finish due to injury. In the four years since, she didn’t believe she could call herself an Olympian.

“I stopped thinking about London after the [US] trials [in February],” said Linden. “I felt like it was something that might make me tentative coming in here, like I don’t want to give 100 percent so that I don’t get hurt.”

When it came to her performance in Rio, Linden added: “I wanted to run my own race and I felt like at times it was kind of happening around me, the surges and moves by the Kenyans. I wanted to have another gear over that last 10 to 12K.

“I think I might have been a little too aggressive on that last 10K loop going toward the far end. I got excited. I could see myself closing in. Then, I just got stuck in one pace coming back the rest of the way. I was just completely gapped, I couldn’t make any moves. . . . I put everything out there. I’m not upset at all. I wish I could have been closer.”

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Meanwhile, Cragg was a little tearful and upset with her race afterward. She struggled with some stomach issues along the course.

“I was pretty disappointed,” said Cragg. “You don’t train for months on end to get ninth. You train to be in that top three, at least in the mix. So, my initial reaction was that I’m not very happy with it. However, when I take a step back and think, ‘I just got ninth at the Olympics.’ That’s great. That’s awesome. This is what I’m here to do. I’ve worked so hard for years for today. I put everything I could out there . . . I’m not done.”

Cragg said she would soon start thinking about her next step, next race. Already, Flanagan has the Boston Marathon on her calendar.

When asked if she would run in Boston next April, Flanagan said, “My heart’s always in Boston. Yes.”


Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ShiraSpringer.