Hellen Obiri calls time on track career after Tokyo Olympics

Hellen Obiri, the double world 5,000 metres champion and Olympic silver medallist over the distance, has announced she is signing off from the track to launch a career in road running.

Obiri, 31, said she would now focus on the half marathon and, eventually, the marathon after settling for fourth in the 10,000 metres here on Saturday.

So brutal was the Olympic final at the Tokyo National Stadium that the gold and bronze medalists – Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan and Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey – needed post-race medical attention, a Kenyan was lapped and several athletes dropped out midstream.

Earlier in the day, Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei won gold and silver to kick off a dramatic day of Olympic action that saw Brazil edge out Spain to win the football gold medal after extra time, hosts Japan clinch the baseball title and NBA-powered USA overpower France to claim the men’s basketball gold.

Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir wins the women’s marathon final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Sapporo on August 7, 2021./Charly Triballeau | AFP

And on the final day of track and field action, Kenya settled for silver through world champion Timothy Cheruiyot in the 1,500m, a race won by Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen in a new Olympic record time of three minutes, 28.32 seconds.

The women’s marathon, held in the city of Sapporo away from Tokyo’s heat and humidity, was no less cooler with Kenya hot favourites courtesy of the star-studded cast of Jepchirchir, Kosgei and world champion Ruth Chepng’etich.

And after a calculated first half, in which the lead pack crossed the 21-kilometre mark in one hour, 15 minutes and 14 seconds, Kenya suffered a major blow when Chepng’etich dropped out, perhaps the late arrival into Japan taking its toll on the world champion.

Jepchirchir and Kosgei then worked as a team with Chepchirchir, who is pretty new in the full marathon, upstaging the world record holder to win in a time of two hours, 27 minutes and 20 second.

Silver medalist Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei celebrates after the women’s marathon final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Sapporo on August 7, 2021./Giuseppe Cacace | AFP

Jepchirchir said her victory was down to teamwork while Kosgei, who trains at 3,000 metres above sea level in Kapsait, said the heat and humidity affected her race, but was grateful she worked well with Jepchirchir to get the top medals.

“It feels good. I’m so, so happy because we win as Kenya. First and second. I thank my God so much. I’m happy for my family. I’m happy for my country, Kenya,” an elated Jepchirchir said after her maiden Olympic appearance.

“I pushed on the pace (and when I opened the gap) it was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to make it. I’m going to win.’”

Kosgei, the world record-holder, was delighted to win silver: “I was happy because I was selected to represent my country for the first time. I want to say thanks to Kenya and thanks to my fans, my coach and my colleagues who train with me because we won gold and silver (for Kenya). I would also like to say thanks to my friend Peres Jepchirchir for winning gold.”

Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir celebrates after winning the women’s marathon final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Sapporo on August 7, 2021./Giuseppe Cacace | AFP

USA’s Molly Seidel took the bronze medal in only the third marathon of her career.

“We didn’t go out super-fast and I kept it very controlled at the beginning,” the American said.

“After halfway, rather than follow, I wanted to make moves and be aggressive. These races are tactical, so I wanted to be a little bit of a bulldog and not let people walk all over me.”

A few hours later on the final day of action, Sifan of the Netherlands bagged her second gold after she won the 10,000 metres title with Obiri settling for fourth place.

Ethiopia’s world record holder Gidey and Bahrain’s Kalkidan Gezahene took silver and bronze.

Sifan had earlier on won gold in the 5,000m and settled for bronze in the 1,500m in her attempt to win three gold medals at these Games.

Obiri said the conditions were tough and was happy to sign off with a personal best over the 10,000 metres of 30 minutes, 24.27 seconds.

From left: Kenya’s Irine Cheptai, Kenya’s Hellen Obiri and Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey compete in the women’s 10,000m final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 7, 2021./Joan Pereruan | Nation Media Group

She said she would be making the big switch to road running after a brilliant career on the track.

“I’m so happy because this is my third Olympics. So far I can’t say I’ve done my best. I could have, if I had a medal, but it seems it wasn’t my day.”

“I can’t say that it was a good year for me because 2020 was a tough year all over the world, and to get a chance to participate in these Olympics it was a bit of luck for me.

“We imagined it won’t happen, but luckily it happened, so we are grateful.”

“I tried, but there’s nothing I could do. I tried to keep up with the attackers, but it was hard for me. It was hard. Maybe it was because of fatigue, because of the 5,000m,” she said.

The men’s 1,500 metres final was always going to be a battle between world champion Cheruiyot, European champion Jakob Ingebristen and new kid on the block Abel Kipsang.

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the men’s 1500m final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 7, 2021./Jewel Samad | AFP

Cheruiyot set the early pace with Kipsang attacking from behind – the two providing for a Kenyan sandwich – but it was the young Norwegian who had the last laugh, bursting into gold medal position in the final 100 metres to win in a new Olympic record time of 2:28.32.

Cheruiyot (3:29.01) could not respond and had to settle for silver with Great Britain’s Josh Kerr (3:29.05, personal best time) taking bronze.

“Today, my performance was good, well-controlled. We ran good times in an Olympics. And I’m happy about the results of the day,” Cheruiyot said.

“My focus today is to run under 3:30 because I was in good form. I was expecting to run under 3:30.”

“In the last 100 metres, I was feeling tired. I was feeling my right hamstring so I didn’t manage to run to the finish line fast.”

He congratulated his biggest rival Jakob.

“Jakob is a good racer, he is a young athlete, he is coming fast, so I’m happy about the race. He’s a good racer and I want to say to him congratulations.

“This is the first time Jakob beat me – in a big event, at the Olympics.  I know he was well-prepared and I’m happy for him.”

“Covid-19 affected every athlete in the world. So it’s affected me so much because I stopped my training for almost one month.

“Then I came again to train for the Olympics so it really affected me a lot.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen celebrates after winning the men’s 1500m final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 7, 2021./Jewel Samad | AFP

The Games end on Sunday with the closing ceremony at the National Stadium from 7pm local time (1pm Kenyan time).

But before that, there will be medal ceremonies for the men’s and women’s marathons at 8pm (2pm Kenyan time) and 8.10pm (2.10pm Kenyan time).

This is the first time that the women’s marathon award presentation ceremony is held alongside the men’s.

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