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WATCH: I did it for everyone back home, says smiling Gerda Steyn after exhausting top-15 finish

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Women's Marathon - Sapporo Odori Park, Sapporo, Japan - August 7, 2021. General view of athletes in action REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Women's Marathon - Sapporo Odori Park, Sapporo, Japan - August 7, 2021. General view of athletes in action REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Published Aug 7, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - In uncomfortably hot and humid conditions, South Africa’s Gerda Steyn pushed hard in the second half of the Tokyo Olympics marathon on Saturday to finish in 15th position, with Kenya completing a one-two in the early morning event.

The marathon, held in Sapporo – over 830km north of Tokyo to avoid the hot Japanese capital – was still run in exhausting weather of 28 degrees and over 70 percent humidity, which made fast times impossible, despite the start time being moved to an hour earlier than scheduled at 6am Japanese time.

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Even world record-holder Brigid Kosgei was unable to respond to Kenyan teammate Peres Jepchirchir’s late kick with less than two kilometres to go, with Jepchirchir clinching the gold medal in two hours 27 minutes and 20 seconds (2:27:20) over the 42.195km distance.

ALSO READ: Irvette van Zyl keeps fighting for Olympic marathon success

Kosgei, whose world mark stands at 2:14:04 – which she set in 2019 – had to be satisfied with the silver in 2:27:36, with American Molly Seidel a surprise bronze medallist in 2:27:46.

Steyn finished in 2:32:10, over six seconds shy of her South African record of 2:25:28 that she ran in Italy earlier this year, but Saturday’s race was never going to be about quick times.

It was a monumental effort by the former quantity surveyor, who hails from Bothaville in the Free State.

“Thank you everyone for all your support. I am really happy today with 15th place. I did it for everyone back home. I’ve never been so overwhelmed with support, well wishers…” said Steyn, who was still flashing her trademark smile after the race.

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ALSO READ: Can golden Gerda Steyn produce an Olympic miracle?

“I did for you all back home in South Africa, and I know it’s difficult times, so I’m hoping that it will bring a bit of hope and something to be happy about. I love you all – thank you!”

Steyn had a lengthy preparation period for the race, training in the French Alps and then experiencing some hot weather in Dubai, which she said on her Instagram page was a “heat adaptation” process in anticipation of the conditions in Sapporo.

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Once she arrived in Japan about a week ago, she posted that “it’s as hot as they said”, and Steyn also placed a bag of ice on her head a few days ago, stating on Twitter: “The hot weather will make it interesting, that’s for sure!”

Steyn was close to the front group after the first 5km, which she completed in 18:09, just seven seconds behind.

The 31-year-old kept up with the leading runners by the 10km mark as well, where she was just a second off the pace in 36:17 – despite being listed in 41st position at that point.

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Steyn, though, made a move over the next few kilometres, moving into 27th position at the 15km point in a time of 53:51.

Kenyan trio Kosgei, Jepchirchir and Ruth Chepngetich were spearheading a group of 10 in the lead group in 53:47 at the 15km mark, and it looked like the east African nation could secure all three medals.

Steyn maintained a good pace and gradually worked her way up the field, and moved into the top 20 by the 25km mark after 1 hour 29 minutes and 32 seconds (1:29:32) for 19th position.

The Comrades Marathon champion improved by two positions to 17th after 35km in 2:05:41, with the lead group reduced to five athletes at that distance – Kenyans Jepchirchir and Kosgei, Seidel, Lonah Salpeter (Israel) and Eunice Chumba (Bahrain) – in a time of 2:02:58.

Another leading Kenyan, Chepngetich, was unable to continue in the closing stages, and that helped Steyn shift up to 14th position with two kilometres to go.

Jepchirchir then put in a late kick at that point to outlast Kosgei and emerge victorious, with Steyn pipped by Poland’s Karolina Nadolska by just six seconds to finish 15th in 2:32:10.

The other South African, Irvette van Zyl, unfortunately bowed out around the halfway mark, having come through the 20km point in 1:14:04 in what was her third Olympics.

Van Zyl was not able to finish at London 2012 and did not make it to the start line at Rio 2016 due to injuries on both occasions.

Now the attention turns to the men’s marathon on Sunday, where South Africa will have three entrants in Stephen Mokoka, Elroy Gelant and Desmond Mokgobu.

Team SA will also cheer on long-distance track specialist Dominique Scott-Efurd in the women’s 10 000m final at 12.45pm SA time.

Women’s marathon results

1 Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya) 2:27:20

2 Brigid Kosgei (Kenya) 2:27:36

3 Molly Seidel (USA) 2:27:46

4 Roza Dereje (Ethiopia) 2:28:38

5 Volha Mazuronak (Belarus) 2:29:06

6 Melat Kejeta (Germany) 2:29:16

7 Eunice Chumba (Bahrain) 2:29:36

8 Mao Ichiyama (Japan) 2:30:13

9 Malindi Elmore (Canada) 2:30:59

10 Sinead Diver (Australia) 2:31:14

15 Gerda Steyn (RSA) 2:32:10

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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