Canada's Elmore finishes 9th in Olympic marathon, nearly 2 decades after last Games
Kenya's Jepchirchir wins gold (2:27:20) ahead of compatriot Kosgei, American Seidel
Nine years after leaving track and field behind, and 17 years since her last Olympic appearance, Canadian Malindi Elmore claimed a top-10 finish in the women's Olympic marathon.
The 41-year-old Kelowna, B.C., native overcame the scorching Sapporo heat to finish ninth with a time of two hours, 30 minutes and 59 seconds at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. It is the best Olympic marathon finish by a Canadian woman in a non-boycott Games.
Kenya's Peres Jepchirchir won her country's second straight Olympic gold in the event with a time of 2:27:20, while fellow Kenyan and world record holder Brigid Kosgei claimed silver (2:27:36).
American Molly Seidel, running in her third-ever marathon, took bronze at 2:27:46.
It's a top 10 Olympic finish for Canada's Malindi Elmore 🇨🇦🙌 in the women's marathon at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Tokyo2020?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Tokyo2020</a> <a href="https://t.co/8PHkaBWcDf">pic.twitter.com/8PHkaBWcDf</a>—@CBCOlympics
"I had given up any kind of Olympic aspirations, I never thought I'd be back to the Olympics," Elmore said, moments after finishing. "I was moving on with my life."
Returning Olympian Natasha Wodak, of Surrey, B.C., kept pace with Elmore for much of the race to finish 13th with a time of 2:31:41.
"I'm in so much of a better place mentally, physically, all around," Wodak said. "I came into this race with just my heart full of gratitude to be here, and you know, I'm 39 years old. I said after Rio, anything's icing on the cake. So today was a frickin' whole cake on top of the cake."
Tecumseh, Ont., native Dayna Pidhoresky was the final to finish, placing 73rd (3:03:10).
WATCH | Elmore on historic marathon finish, inspiration from family:
Elmore made her Olympic debut in 2004 in the 1,500m event, but she fell short of qualifying for the Games in 2008 and 2012 — leading her to walk away from the athletics world.
"I loved it, and I did really well," said Elmore, whose time in that first attempt was just two minutes shy of the Olympic qualifying standard.
"I thought well, I should do another one and see if I could get standard. But I thought that was kind of hilarious really, to even be thinking that, trying to get to the Olympics."
In her second marathon early last year, she smashed the Canadian women's record with a time of 2:24:50 in the Houston Marathon — besting the mark by more than two minutes while earning an Olympic spot.
Exhausted and thrilled! We ran our hearts and legs out out there today and were delighted with the results. Congrats to <a href="https://twitter.com/ByGollyMolly12?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ByGollyMolly12</a> on her medal, <a href="https://twitter.com/tasha_wodak?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@tasha_wodak</a> on 13th! <a href="https://t.co/jpLi0MURc5">pic.twitter.com/jpLi0MURc5</a>—@MalindiElmore
Japan's Honami Maeda led out of the gate and set the pace early on in Sapporo, but the chasing pack quickly began to close the gap.
Reigning world champion Ruth Chepng'etich of Kenya took the lead at the five kilometre mark with a time of 18:02, with Kosgei and Jepchirchir running alongside her among a large group. Kosgei set the women's marathon world record at the Chicago Marathon in 2019 (2:14:04).
Running together, Wodak and Elmore were just three and four seconds back of the lead, respectively.
WATCH | Jepchirchir wins gold, Elmore claims historic finish:
Returning Olympian Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel pushed ahead to keep pace near the front of the pack, right behind the Kenyan trio. The lead group began to diminish as the pace settled after 10km, and Elmore moved in line with the leaders following her strong start.
Seidel and fellow American Sally Kipyego were among the pack at the front.
Chepng'etich finally fell off the group, and only nine runners remained in front as the race reached 30km with fatigue kicking in. Elmore and Wodak dug deep to power through and rejoin the group, but were behind by 51 seconds and 1:20, respectively.
Seidel charged to the head of the group as the only American in the lead pack. But the two remaining Kenyan runners, Kosgei and Jepchirchir pushed right back to equal the pace.
WATCH | Scott Russell's 'The Marathon Essay':
Salpeter and Bahrain's Eunice Chumba rounded out the leading group of five as they progressed past 35km, with the leading Kenyan duo holding a one-second lead over the other three (2:02:58). Elmore dropped back to 1:47 behind the leaders.
"The longer I could be patient, the better I would do," Elmore said. "I had hoped to pick it up in the last 10K. But really, it became a hold-on-and-not-fall-apart kind of last lap, because I started to hurt a lot. And I took everything I could really the last 6, 7K to keep the momentum going forward."
Salpeter hit the wall, stopping entirely at the 38km mark to leave Seidel in bronze position. Seidel did everything she could to rejoin the leaders, while Elmore battled past several runners on the final stretch to enter the top-10.
"I went from feeling great — I had just received news that I was 40 seconds from 10th place — and suddenly, I was just like, 'Wooh!' It hit me really hard, I just felt like I was going to stop. And I felt like throwing up. So, I took a gel and some water and dumped a bottle on my head and just tried to get ahead of things a bit," Elmore said.
"From there on in it was just like really trying to just stay in the moment. I knew that everyone is hurting at this point. So, if I'm moving forward towards the finish line and not falling apart, then I'm actually probably making good progress."
Jepchirchir pushed ahead at the 40km mark to leave Kosgei behind her in silver position, and her lead continued to grow as she secured the win on the final kilometre.
"It feels good. I'm so, so happy because we win as Kenya, first and second," Jepchirchir said. "I thank my god so much. I'm happy for my family. I'm happy for my country, Kenya."
With files from The Canadian Press