Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge stormed to gold in one of the standout performances at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, with the curtain set to fall on the highly unusual Games.
A succession of big names have failed to perform at the postponed 2020 Olympics but Kenya’s Kipchoge showed his class in Sapporo, kicking on the closing stages and clocking 2hr 08min 38sec to retain his 2016 title.
It rounded off the athletics programme on the 16th and final day of Olympic competition, with China two golds clear of the United States at the top of the medals table with just a handful of events still to come.
The Games have been plagued by low Japanese support over coronavirus super-spreader fears but a strong performance by the hosts, third in the table with 27 golds, has helped win hearts even though most fans are locked out.
“I know there were a lot of people against holding this Olympics due to the coronavirus,” said a flag-waving, 47-year-old fan on the marathon route who gave his name as Tsujita.
“But I am glad it took place. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone.”
The marathon, moved north to Sapporo to avoid Tokyo’s summer heat, was one of the few events to allow fans but Sunday’s closing ceremony will take place at a largely vacant Olympic Stadium.
The ceremony in the 68,000-seat stadium, attended by VIPs and media, rounds off an extraordinary Olympics which last year became the first Games to be postponed and often looked at risk of cancellation.
– Trans athletes and ‘twisties’ –
Athletes, ordered to wear masks when not competing, training, eating, or sleeping, have endured the extra psychological strain of strict “bubble” conditions in Tokyo.
Victory celebrations have been low-key, with lonely laps of honour and sparsely attended medal ceremonies. But the emotions of the competitors have been in full view.
“The athletes gave these Olympic Games a great Olympic soul,” said International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, insisting the atmosphere has been “more intense than ever before”.
Superstar gymnast Simone Biles provided the most jaw-dropping moment when she abruptly pulled out of competition over about of the “twisties”, a disorientating mental block.
Biles, widely acknowledged as the greatest gymnast in history, recovered sufficiently to return for the final event, the beam, claiming a redemptive bronze.
Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Games and Canada’s Quinn became the first openly transgender Olympic medallist, with gold in women’s football.
The US men’s team won their fourth consecutive men’s basketball crown and US swimmer Caeleb Dressel took over the mantle of Michael Phelps with five gold medals in the pool.
Among the final events on Sunday are four boxing golds, and track cycling at the Izu Velodrome signs off.
Canada’s Kelsey Mitchell took gold in the women’s sprint while Jason Kenny won the keirin to become the first British athlete to win seven Olympic titles.
America’s women play Japan seeking their seventh straight basketball gold and there are also titles on the line in rhythmic gymnastics, water polo, handball, and volleyball.
The Olympic flag will pass to 2024 hosts in Paris at the closing ceremony. But the circus will reconvene in just six months’ time when Beijing, faced with boycott threats and a renewed coronavirus emergency, holds the Winter Games in February.