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Athletics Stats: African gold medalists in marathon running in Olympics

Marathon running is a 42.195-kilometer long-distance running event inspired by the ancient Greek soldier Pheidippides, who raced from Marathon to Athens to herald the Greek victory over the Persian army in 490 BC. This earlier occasion served as inspiration for the modern Olympic marathon, which made its debut at the 1896 Games in Athens. Marathon running has developed into a highly competitive sport over the years, with competitors from all over the world fighting for top spots. The list of famous marathon runners throughout history includes Abebe Bikila, Eliud Kipchoge, Haile Gebrselassie, Kathrine Switzer, Catherine Ndereba, Grete Waitz, and many more.

Since the Olympic Games were revived in Greece’s capital city of Athens in 1896, marathon running has been a part of athletics.  The Olympic marathon is a demanding competition that puts athletes’ stamina, speed, and mental strength to the test. The 42.195-kilometer (26.2-mile) race is often conducted across a variety of terrain and weather patterns. The Olympic marathon has also witnessed several significant sporting moments. For instance, during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos saluted the Black Power movement by raising their fists during the medal ceremony.

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Countries that have dominated in Marathon Running

African athletes have dominated the Olympic marathon, with some of the best marathon runners in history coming from Kenya and Ethiopia. With four gold, one silver, and three bronze medals, Ethiopia is ranked first in the list of medals by country. Kenya, on the other hand, has accumulated three gold, three silver, and two bronze medals to maintain its position as the second-best performer on the list. Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, who claimed gold medals in the marathon in 1960 and 1964, and Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, who earned golds in 2016 and 2020 and broke the world record in 2022, are two notable African gold medalists in the event.

Let’s take a look at African athletes who have won gold medals in marathon running in the Olympics.

YearAthleteCountryTiming
1912Ken McArthurSouth Africa2:36:55
1960Abebe BikilaEthiopia2:15:16
1964Abebe BikilaEthiopia2:12:11
1968Mamo WoldeEthiopia2:20:26
1996Josia ThugwaneSA2:12:36
2000Jezahegne AberaEthiopia2:10:11
2008Samuel Kamau WansiruKenya2:06:32
2012Stephen KiprotichUganda2:08:01
2016Eliud KipchogeKenya2:08:44
2021Eliud KipchogeKenya2:08:38

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Some lesser known facts about the African gold medalists

In 1960, Abebe Bikila became the first African athlete to win the marathon running competition in the Olympics. The next edition, Abebe again scripted history to become the first athlete to successfully defend the marathon title in 1964. In the year 2000, Gezahegne Abera of Ethiopia went on to become the youngest marathon champion at the age of 22. At the London Olympics 2012, Stephen Kiprotich upset top athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia to take home the second gold medal for Uganda in the mega event. Eliud Kipchoge who is known as the greatest marathoner of all time has won the marathon in the last two editions – Rio Olympics 2016 and Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

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