LONDON, August 12, 2012 - His mission was simple and clear: ‘ End Uganda’s Olympics medal drought’ and that he delivered in style with a stunning powerful sprint in the last 6km of Sunday’s marathon.
He dumbfounded favourites Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang propped up to salvage Kenya’s pride at the Olympics.
Stephen Kiprotich’s 2:08.27 earned Uganda its second medal in 40 years as Kirui, the double world champion won a silver in 2:08.27 and early pace setter Kipsang had to settle for bronze a minute and a half behind the winner in 2:09.37.
So stylish was his finish that he picked up the Ugandan flag way before the finish line to celebrate his victory majestically like a crane, exciting the record marathon crowds that turned up to witness the final athletics race of the Games.
He simply smoked away Kenya’s chances.
Their ‘small brother’ Uganda crushed the hopes of a nation that had ironically helped groom Kiprotich for his ultimate career dream, as they failed to retain the Gold medal the late Samuel Wanjiru had meticulously won in Beijing.They are both from the larger Kalenjin Community, nilotic ethnic speakers residing in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, thus the shared Kiprotich surname between the winner Stephen Kiprptich and the Kenyan bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich.
“In the start I knew this would be the usual Kenya, Ethiopian win. But after three miles I decided to let go and challenge,” said Kiprotich whose training partner Emmanuel Mutai struggled after a good start to crossing the line at a poor 17th.
Mutai was a late replacement for injured Moses Mosop in the team, a position many felt should have gone to the World marathon record holder, Patrick Makau.
The drive was there but the decisive power and speed failed after a rather commanding lead as gold eluded Kenya again in a familiar contest.
Sunday’s weather was very different from the rainy and cool conditions at the women’s race.
Evidently that could have worked against Kipsang’s early surge in a city where he realised his Olympic dream with his dominant win at the London marathon in April(2:04.44), undoubtedly one of the best marathon performances of all time.
Athletics Kenya used the London race to select its marathon squad.
“That heat killed my spirit off. I did not know it would get hotter when I kicked,” lamented Kipsang.
But I had to push to break away from the rest of the field otherwise it would have been anybody’s race so it was safer that way.”
He said. “He kicked too fast bearing the heat and humidity. He should have waited until the 20 or 25km point,”noted the Kenyan marathon coach David Letting’.
It was a well-timed kick by Kiprotich,23, running in only his fourth marathon after pacing and winning the 2011 Enschede Marathon.
Brazilian Frank De Almeida set off for the early pace in the first 10km in 30:38 in the race that had been expected to be another Kenyan vs Ethiopian affair.
Kipsang soon closed the gap as he took the field through the halfway mark in 1:14.58 with Kirui 16 seconds off the pace.
But the warming conditions got the best of the 2011 Frankfurt winner in at the 30km stage as Kirui looked set to add the Olympic title to his world collection as the pace dropped further the field slowly succumbing to the heat.
That is when Kiprotich hit. An unforeseen kick by the Kenyan duo too drained to challenge the charge by their training mate from Kaptagat.
“When we were running with Kipsang’ we just saw from nowhere our brother (Kiprotich). I was surprised to see him just go past us and it was hard to control it or even challenge,” conceded Kirui.
“When I crossed the finish line I didn’t believe I am the winner,” said Kiprotich spurred on by the success of Uganda’s only gold medallist at the Games before Sunday, John-Aki Abua the 400m hurdles winner in Munich.
“I never saw him (John-Aki Abua) but his achievements were always in my mind.I always wondered can I one day do what he did for Uganda many years ago?”
His manager Jos Hermens at Global Sports Communication who also has the women’s’ marathon winner Ethiopian Tiki Gelana in his stables alongside former world marathon record holder Haile Gebreselassie.
“He switched to the marathon in 2010 as we noticed that he didn’t have the speed required in his steeplechase and the 10 000. Its fantastic to come here as an underdog and win the race,” Hermen’s said.
“I am always in Kenya because we don’t have training facilities in Eastern Uganda, where I come from near the slopes of Mount Elgon,” added the soft-spoken runner, 9th in the marathon in Daegu where Kirui triumphed.
“I will be back in Russia to defend and add another gold. But before then winning London would be good for me,”Kirui added.
For Kipsang, who missed the world mark by just three seconds in Germany last year at 2:04.44, the search for the ultimate marathon honours continues.
“I will keep trying for the record.”
Another failed bid by the Kenyans in London to salvage the elusive gold for a country that ranked a disappointing 27 in the medal standings behind leaders USA (46 gold) and China(38), ranking third in African behind South Africa and Ethiopia, who both picked three gold.
A botched outing for Kenya, saved by David Rudisha’s world record and Ezekiel Kemboi’s steeplechase gold, that will require an exhaustive investigation and perhaps culling the leadership ahead of the 2016 Rio games to salvage the country’s sporting image.