News29 Jul 2016

Landmark athletics moments beckon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with just two weeks to go


Gold winner Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda after finishing the Men's Marathon of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 12, 2012 (© Getty Images)

With exactly two weeks to go until the start of the athletics programme at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Friday 12 August, anticipation is already starting to rise about what is in store for athletics fans at the 31st edition of the most prestigious sports event on the planet.

The fascinating and informative IAAF Statistics Handbook for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad (available as an ebook or pdf file, see 'Related Links' on the right side of this page), to give the publication its official title – produced in collaboration with the Association of Track and Field Statisticians (ATFS) and edited by renowned athletics statistician Mark Butler – has a plethora of facts and figures and so we know that one thing that will happen with near certainty is that the 1000th athletics gold medal will be awarded.

As Butler points out: “Currently 953 gold medals have been awarded across 951 events. This total includes 950 regular golds plus three more. An extra gold in the 1908 men’s pole vault where there were two champions, plus the additional two golds awarded posthumously to Jim Thorpe for the 1912 Pentathlon and Decathlon.”

With 47 events on the athletics programme, it is highly likely that the winner of the men’s marathon on 21 August will be athletics’ landmark gold medallist.

But who will it be?

Many people’s favourite would be Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the dominant marathon runner in the world since the start of 2014 with five consecutive wins in top class races, all in fast times including his 2016 world-leading 2:03:05 he ran to win in London in April.

However, Olympic marathons have a habit of confounding the form book.

Who would have predicted Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich would have won four years ago in London and while 2004 and 2008 winners Stefano Baldini and Samuel Wanjiru were among the leading entrants in those Games, 1996 and 2000 winners Josia Thugwane and Gezahegn Abera were big surprises.

With more than 100 runners from around 60 nations expected on the start line in Rio, someone out of the blue – in similar fashion to the way Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebreslassie won at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 – could take the historic 1000th gold medal.

The men’s marathon will be the very last Olympic title decided in Rio but the first will be won little more than two hours after the athletics programme gets underway on 12 August, with the women’s 10,000m being innovatively run on the opening morning.

Can Dibaba get the first gold in Rio?

Defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba has made an impressive return to form with her 30:28.53 run in Hengelo a month ago and will be looking to become the first woman to win three consecutive individual titles in any athletics event at the Olympics. (American sprinters Evelyn Ashford and Sanya Richards Ross have won three consecutive relay gold medals.)

Dibaba would also become the oldest 10,000m gold medallist at the Olympics if she was to triumph.

However, as she is still only 30, such a feat is far from beyond the bounds of possibility.

Trying to prevent Dibaba adding even more lustre to her career on athletics' opening morning in Rio will be her compatriot and the 2015 5000m world champion Almaz Ayana, who also leads the world going into Rio in both the 5000m and 10,000m

She was still a steeplechaser and just missed out on selection for London four years ago when she was just 20 but this time around Ayana has her eyes on a 5000m and 10,000m double in Rio; a feat only ever achieved once before and by – who else? – Dibaba when she took both gold medals in 2008.

Ayana has only ever run once before competitively over 25 laps of the track but what a debut it was, winning the de facto Ethiopian trial race in Hengelo in 30:07.00.

Regardless of whether she beats Dibaba, and the rest of the field, to athletics' first gold medal in Rio, it looks like it is just a matter of time before Ayana joins the very elite club of runners, which currently numbers just five, who have run under 30:00.00 for 10,000m.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF