LONDON -- The marathon is an anthology of stories, each unfolding over the twists and turns of 26.2 miles, each with a different conflict and each with a different ending even though all runners who complete the course cross the same finish line.
For the 105 men who started the Olympic marathon Sunday on the last day of the Games, the race was hot and humid. The 75-degree weather was very un-London-like, but the route was pure London, passing landmarks such as the Tower of London, St. Pauls cathedral and Buckingham Palace.
For Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, the marathon was a surreal story. As he rounded the Queen Victoria memorial and ran down the homestretch of The Mall, he could not believe he was leading the Olympic marathon.
He kept looking over his shoulder at the favorites, Kenyans with impressive marathon résumés. The lead he seized with four miles to go only lengthened. Even with a 26-second gap, he could not believe what was happening.
But when I crossed the line I could believe it, Kiprotich said.
Kiprotich ran a brilliant tactical race, stalking the leaders and challenging them with surges until his last one got no response. He won in 2 hours 8 minutes and 1 second to capture Ugandas second gold medal in Olympic history, and the first since John Akii-Bua won the 400-meter hurdles in 1972.
The top 33 marathon times of 2012 have been run by Kenyans or Ethiopians. Kiprotich grew up on a farm in Uganda, but trains in Kapsabet, Kenya, with Emmanuel Mutai. No one considered him a contender in London.
He came to us four years ago, and we know that training in Uganda is very difficult so we directed him to coach Patrick Sangs group in Kapsabet, said Jos Hermens, the Dutchman who manages dozens of African runners. Hes in a good group, and hes beating those guys. But I did not expect him to be Olympic champion. To be honest, I was betting on [silver medalist] Abel Kirui.
For Kiprotich, Olympic gold means more invitations to prestigious races, more money, a shot at making the most of his legs before he runs them into the ground.
Unless you are Usain Bolt, marathoning is the most lucrative form of running today. It is also brutally competitive, with young runners coming up constantly. In east Africa, the marathon and its heroes beckon youngsters the way the NBA and NFL tempt American kids.
I was not known. Now I am known, Kiprotich said, smiling with pride, not arrogance. Determination matters. Im happy.
For Ryan Hall, who holds so much promise to be Americas greatest marathoner, the Olympic race was a sad story. Another disappointing result in a major event.
Hall dropped out after 9 miles holding his right hamstring.
It got progressively tighter as the race went on, Hall said. I do not want to turn it into a serious injury. Not finishing a race is not an option unless you are running the risk of damaging your future.
Frustrated and fatigued last fall, Hall left his longtime coach to strike out on his own and discover a new way of training.
He and his wife, who had always been religious, joined a church in northern California that encourages its adherents to develop a closer relationship with God. Hall says God is his coach.
He had hopes that he was on the right road despite skepticism from the marathoning world and whispers that his approach was too out there.