Cramps kick Duluth native Kara Goucher's quest for Olympic gold

A rainy day and a conservative pace appeared to give Kara Goucher hope of contending in Sunday's Summer Olympics women's marathon on the streets of London.

Kara Goucher
Duluth native Kara Goucher finishes the women's marathon in 11th place with a time of 2 hours, 26 minutes, 7 seconds at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, in London. (Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

A rainy day and a conservative pace appeared to give Kara Goucher hope of contending in Sunday's Summer Olympics women's marathon on the streets of London.

While the Duluth-raised runner couldn't match some of the best times of other entrants in the record field of 118, she stayed right at the front, along with training partner Shalane Flanagan, for nearly 14 miles. No one was willing to push the pace as 30 athletes were within sight of the lead.

But when an East African contingent finally did step on the gas, the Americans were unable to hold on, as Ethiopia's Tiki Gelana pushed ahead to claim the gold medal in an Olympic-record 2 hours, 23 minutes, 7 seconds. Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo was second in 2:23:12 and Russian Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova third in personal-best 2:23:29.

Flanagan, 31, was 10th in 2:25:51 and Goucher 16 seconds back in 11th in 2:26:07, with both Portland, Ore.-based runners in their first Olympic marathon after competing on the track in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. Both were bothered by leg cramps in the closing miles, and Goucher, 34, also had a tight back. A third American, Desiree Davila, dropped out after five kilometers because of a hip injury.

"(Shalane and I) had no intention of leading and matching everyone else's cadence, but we decided to stay up front because it was clean," Goucher told USA Track and Field. "Both times I tried to go back to the second and third row, I got pushed and grunted at and stepped on, so I thought, 'What the heck, I'll go ahead and lead the Olympic marathon. I mean, I have no shot of winning this but I'll lead as long as they let me.'


"I never really gave up. Every time I tried to press in that last lap, my back just hurt so bad. It was really frustrating. (The cramps) started in adductors of right calf and then it went to my back. I haven't cramped since I ran the New York City Marathon in 2008. I honestly haven't felt that kind of pain since I pushed out a baby (in 2010). I'm serious. Shalane cramped very badly as well, so we're both a little confused and annoyed."

Seven of the 17 women in history who had run under 2 hours, 20 minutes were on the starting line. Goucher, in her sixth marathon, has a best of 2:24:52.

They began in pouring rain, which finally stopped with about six miles remaining and the lead pack down to five. Gelana, 24, who had won the Rotterdam Marathon in April in a personal-best 2:18:58, handled the many-turn, technical, narrow Olympic course and overcame being knocked to the ground during an aid station collision. She became Ethiopia's second women's marathon gold medalist, following Fatuma Roba, who won in 1996 in Atlanta.

"When I fell, I said, 'Oh, wow, I'm not going to finish,'?" Gelana said through an interpreter. "But I just concentrated on running. All of a sudden, I made it."

Flanagan had worked her way back up to fifth place before slowing at the end. Eleven runners did not finish.

"There were some really tough spots. It was tough just to let people pass me, and I had no oomph to go with them. I tried to react, like in a track race, but it is really different for me in the marathon," Flanagan told USA Track and Field. "You already have a lot of miles in your legs and it is so, so, so hard. I could feel myself cramping. The fans were amazing; I couldn't even hear my own thoughts. The fans were just deafening.

"I just was hoping I could chomp away and get closer, and I did at times, and I fell off at times. I was yo-yo-ing all over the place."

In Goucher's only other marathon in a USA uniform, she was 10th in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany, in 2:27:48. In Beijing, she was ninth at 5,000 meters and 10th at 10,000 meters. The American women's marathon team is scheduled to run in the 2013 Boston Marathon on April 15.


"I've got to be honest, when I saw her (Shalane) with two miles to go, it actually broke my spirit. Because I thought one of us had a shot," Goucher said. "People mess up, and I've trained so hard. I didn't even know women trained the way that I've trained with Shalane. I didn't know it existed. And I really thought that with the right window of opportunity, one of us could deliver and unfortunately it didn't come to be.

New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg, in London for the race, told the News Tribune:

"There was a lot to be encouraged by for USA running. It was the strongest team ever qualified, and Shalane and Kara were contenders through much of the race. In some ways being so strong coming into the race made it harder. Just over a decade ago, few dreamt of USA medals. This time we had three bona fide contenders.

"It may have been a smaller step forward for than we had hoped, but it's still a step forward. Shalane and Kara should hold their heads high. They gave it all they had."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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