Preview: The Women's Olympic Marathon

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Brigid Kosgei against the world

The women’s marathon will be held on Saturday, August 7th, in Sapporo - around 800km north of Tokyo. The course is identical to the one the men will run the day after - for that preview, you can click here.

There isn’t a heap of data available about the course - we know the route but the elevation profile hasn’t been as easy to get. From what I’ve seen, it’s not expected to be overly hilly - this is more London than New York. The average temperature range in Sapporo during August is 16-24 degrees, with low winds and around 85% humidity. Remember though, that’s an average range. There’s obviously a chance that race day could be significantly warmer, which is what many athletes have been preparing for.

Update: I found this sick video on YouTube outlining the course and some of Sapporo's sights so you can play along on race day.

Let’s start by offering up what’s probably the obvious take. If Brigid Kosgei turns up, she wins. That’s no disrespect to the rest of the field, because there are some huge names lining up, but what Brigid Kosgei has done in marathoning is simply jaw dropping. Her 2:14:04 in the Chicago Marathon in 2019 is one of the single most dominant race performances we’ve seen, and eclipsed Paula Radcliffe’s previous world record 2:15:25 by a staggering 81 seconds.

Only Kosgei and Radcliffe have broken 2:17 - no other woman has ever broken 2:17, and Kosgei has done it by nearly 3 minutes.

I cannot express to you enough just how wild 2:14:04 is.

Kosgei also won the 2020 London Marathon in 2:18:58 - beating second place Sara Hall by just over 3 minutes.


Look, how about we move on from Brigid Kosgei and give some shine to the rest of the field, hey?

The rest of the Kenyan team is also wild good. Ruth Chepngetich is a 2:17:08 runner, and the current World Champion after winning in Doha 2019 in what can only be described as brutal conditions. Chepngetich has speed to burn too, breaking the world record in the half marathon in April this year in Istanbul, with a blistering 64:02.

Ruth Chepngetich at London 2020

Peres Jepchirchir is a name you may be familiar with - she froths a half marathon, and was adidas’ poster girl for the adios Pro in 2020 when she broke the women’s only WR for the half marathon in a race in Prague (65:34). She then won the World Half Marathon Championship a couple of months later in Poland in 65:16. Here’s a sick article about her run at the adidas half marathon in Prague.

Not content with a couple of big half marathons for the year, Jepchirchir won the marathon in Valencia in December in 2:17:16 - her first marathon win and only her second marathon race.

I don’t see enough depth on the Ethiopian team to trouble the Kenyan women - and that hurts me to write as I do have a soft spot for Ethiopian athletes. Roza Dereje and Birhane Dibaba are class acts but I would be surprised if they are serious challengers for Kosgei, Jepchirchir, or Chepngetich.

One athlete I am impressed with is Mellat Kejeta. Representing Germany, Kejeta was born in Ethiopia but has been repping Germany since early 2020. She finished 2nd in the World HM Champs behind Jepchirchir last year and challenged her nearly all the way. Kejeta has only raced one marathon - finishing 6th in Berlin in 2019 (2:23:57), but I think she’s probably advanced since then and should be in the mix.

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Birhane Dibaba

For Great Britain, I’m excited to see Charlotte Purdue toe the line...oh wait - somehow Charlotte was inexplicably left off the GB team for the marathon despite running the second fastest marathon time of British athletes in the selection period. The British hierarchy have made some questionable decisions in recent memory (mostly around Brexit and covid), so this one isn’t completely surprising, but c’mon, Boris. Stinker of a call. Read more about it here

Of the locals, I have a fondness for Japan’s Mao Ichiyama. Ichiyama, who finished 4th at the Japanese Trials, forced her way onto the team by absolutely braining the field at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in March 2020, soloing to a 2:20:29 - good enough for 4th fastest Japanese woman all-time.

Brett Larner of Japan Running News has a great write up of the race, which you can read here.

There’s also this sick YouTube video montage of Ichiyama’s final k’s in that race. It features some good slo-mo footage, absolutely pouring rain, and a heck of a soundtrack; we kick off with some sort of trap inspired electronica and it gets wilder from there. This could be the only way to watch marathoning in the future.

I feel like we have to talk about the US hopes. Aliphine Tuliamuk, who won the US Olympic Trials in February 2020, hasn’t done a heap of racing since that win on account of taking time off to have a child - shout out Aliphine! She did race a 10k recently in Atlanta which suggests she’s fit and will be peaking at the right time.

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Molly Seidel went from relative unknown to major distance running star since finished 2nd in the US Trials. Seidel had an even better run in London in October, running 2:25:13 and showing that she’s one to watch in the next wave of US marathoning. She has since parted ways with Saucony and signed a long term deal with Puma. Also - very good at the Internet. Follow her on Instagram.

As far as the Aussies, I was asked about this recently - I think our runners are smart, if maybe not as aggressive as some others in the field. Although in saying that, Sinead Diver did lead most of the London Marathon in 2019 - but I think that came down to being smart, not trying to be aggressive. The race started out pretty slow at a pace that wasn’t comfortable for Sinead, so she made the call to run the pace she planned to in the lead up.

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All 3 of the Aussie women have finished Top 10 in World Marathon Majors - Sinead Diver with a 5th place in NYC in 2019, as well as a 7th in London that year and 8th in London in 2020. Ellie Pashley finished 8th in NYC in 2019, and Lisa Weightman has finished 5th in London, 6th in Chicago, and 8th in NYC.

I expect our team to do well. I don’t necessarily expect them to be right at the front putting their noses in the wind, but that’s not always the smart play. They’re more likely to get better as the race goes on, as others who went out too aggressively pay the price through a DNF or a blow up. Will we see an Aussie on the podium? Probably not, but I don’t think it’s out of the question for us to get a runner in the top 10-15.

There you have it, our preview of the women’s marathon. I’m sure there are other contenders who will spend time on the front in the race, but these are the athletes I think are most likely to be in the mix.

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