By Steve Keating
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) -Uganda’s Victor Kiplangat took a wrong turn but still found his way to marathon gold at the Commonwealth Games, providing some late drama to what had been an uneventful race on Saturday.
After more than 40 kilometres of running through the twisting Birmingham streets, Kiplangat veered off course in the late stages but had built up such a commanding lead that the miscue did not cause any damage.
The 22-year-old was a comfortable winner in a time of two hours 10 minutes and 55 seconds.
Even with the little side trip Kiplangat crossed 1:34 clear of Tanzania’s Alphonce Simbu, dropping to his knees to give thanks in the finish area before grabbing a Ugandan flag and soaking up the cheers from yet another large Games crowd.
Michael Mugo Githae, a travelling reserve for the Kenyan team, was a late addition to the field and took full advantage of his chance to claim bronze just ahead of Australia’s Liam Adams, who had led much of the early half of the race.
In the women’s event, Australia’s Jessica Stenson grabbed gold after crossing the line in two hours 27 minutes and 31 seconds. Kenya’s Margaret Wangari Muriuki took silver, while the 2018 gold medallist Helalia Johannes claimed bronze.
Winning the gold medal was a memorable achievement for the 34-year-old Stenson, who contracted COVID-19 a month before the Games.
“Maybe it served me well – a bit of extra rest. I had two complete days off and then just jogged for the rest of the week,” said Stenson, who previously won two bronze medals.
“I did a half marathon a month ago and it didn’t go well. I had trouble with my breathing at 11km and that threw me a bit. So today I was thinking ‘I have got to keep my breathing relaxed. I mustn’t think about the outcome’.”
There was celebration and heartbreak in the men’s wheelchair race.
The gold and the cheers went to England’s Johnboy Smith while it was despair for team mate David Weir.
Winner of six Paralympic gold medals and a six-time world champion, the 43-year-old Weir looked ready to add Commonwealth marathon gold to his list of honours when he sustained a puncture while leading.
“I’m feeling despair and I’ve never felt despair in a race before,” said Weir. “I was talking with my wife the other day and I said that if I had a big lead I could even afford to change a tyre.
“In the end I decided not to carry a spare… I should have gone with my gut instinct.”
Still it was a big day for England, Smith, who was left paralysed after being shot in the back as teenager, was joined on the podium by team mate Simon Lawson who took bronze while Scotland’s Sean Frame got silver.
With just four competitors, Australia’s Madison de Rozario easily defended her Commonwealth marathon title in the women’s race, cruising home nearly four-minutes clear of England’s Eden Rainbow-Cooper.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Birmingham, additional reporting by Manasi Pathak; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris)