Eliud Kipchoge, BRAZIL RIO 2016 OLYMPIC GAMES.jpg
Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya (L) and Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia during the Men's Marathon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Athletics, Track and Field events in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 August 2016.
Photograph: EPA/YOAN VALAT

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge produced a masterful performance to win the men's marathon in Rio de Janeiro Sunday and claim gold 12 years after his first medal at the Games.

On a soaking wet day in Rio, Kipchoge triumphed in 2 hours 8 minutes 44 seconds, crossing the line in the Sambodromo 1 minute 10 seconds before Ethiopian Feyisa Lilesa - the largest winning margin at an Olympics since 1972. American bronze medallist Galen Rupp came in 11 seconds later.

Kipchoge made his move after the 35-kilometre mark when he indicated his last remaining challenger Lilesa should make the pace. But seeing him in pain, he promptly decided to break him instead and smoothly opened a 20-metre gap which only increased en route to the finish.

"It was a championship and it was a bit slow so I decided to take over," he said of his burst. "Maybe it was the rain, maybe not.

"Everyone wants a medal. I was coming here for gold."

Unsurprisingly, Kipchoge was nowhere near his London marathon world lead time from April, but still comfortably added to his bronze and silver medals in the track 5,000m from the 2004 and 2008 Games, in addition to four major city marathon titles.

The runners in the record high 155-runner field may have been hoping to avoid the high temperatures, touching 30 degree Celsius, which have periodically graced the Rio Games. However, peering out of their windows first thing in the morning, they may not have been thrilled to see streets covered in puddles by heavy overnight rain.

With torrential rain lashing down, at precisely 9:30 am (1230 GMT), the drenched bunch set off on their 26.2-mile odyssey with few cheers ringing in their ears. The Sambodromo, home to the Rio carnival, is usually a venue alive with bright colour; on Sunday it was a sorry grey, with only floodlights piercing the soggy gloom.

The underfoot conditions meant no one was going to risk the break-neck starting pace of the late Sammy Wanjiru in 2008, who sped through the Beijing streets to an Olympic record 2:06:32.

"The track was a bit slippery with the rain," Lilesa said. "I am very happy (with silver) as it was a hard race."

The rain had stopped by the time the lead group hit the 5k point in 15:31, a decidedly modest pace which if maintained would have brought them home in around 2 hours 11 minutes.

At the 15k point, with Kipchoge and Rupp leading, tiny gaps began to appear, even if dozens remained close at the 1:05:55 halfway mark.

Ethiopia's Tesfaye Abera was the first high-profile drop-out, around 23k, and by 30k the leaders had been reduced to single figures after the previous 5k was covered in just over 15 minutes, the fastest yet.

This singled the start of the medal race as Kipchoge, Rupp and Lilesa made their move. Another Ethiopian, Lemi Berhanu, went with them but not for long.

Kipchoge turned the screw. After Berhanu, Rupp - who won 10,000m silver in 2012 but now feels "maybe this is my best event" - was dropped with ruthless efficiency and after a brief glance back, he decided Lilesa would be next.

The gold was all but his with around six kilometres remaining and he never looked like losing. He took his place in the pantheon of marathon greats, sprinting to the line while giving the thumbs up to the fans who braved the elements to salute him.

There were also special cheers for 41-year-old American Meb Keflezighi slipping on the line and finishing while doing press-ups, and Argentine Federico Bruno who side-stepped home, unable to run.

Japanese-born Cambodian comedian Kuniaki Takizaki, better known as Neko Hiroshi, then won a sprint not to finish last ahead of Methkal Abu Drais of Jordan, who ended in 2:46:18.

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