Stephen Kiprotich crosses the finish line with a flag of Uganda in hand on… (Mike Groll / Associated…)
LONDON — — Meb Keflezighi had a premonition before Sunday's Olympic marathon.
"I told my wife, 'I have a feeling I'm going to finish fourth,' " he said.
As Olympic premonitions go, that's not a good one because the prize for fourth place is the same as the one for last.
But it was an accurate one, with the former UCLA All-American passing five runners over the final 12 kilometers to finish in 2 hours 11 minutes 6 seconds, more than three minutes behind the winner, Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda. Kiprotich surged away from a pair of East African rivals over the final three miles to win the race in 2:08:01, giving the country its first gold medal in track and field since John Akii-Bua won the 400-meter hurdles four decades ago.
Kenyans finished second and third, with Abel Kirui winning silver in 2:08:27, 70 seconds ahead of bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich.
Yet while Keflezighi will leave London empty-handed, Sunday's race did secure him a place among the most accomplished marathoners in Olympic history. Since Keflezighi was a silver medalist in Athens eight years ago, his fourth-place finish here makes him the only American besides two-time medalist Frank Shorter to finish that high in multiple Games. And just six other runners from any country have finished fourth or better twice — none of them over the space of three Olympics, which is how long it took Keflezighi.
And Keflezighi was the only U.S. runner to finish in London, because Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman dropped out just after 15 kilometers. Hall had a tightening right hamstring and Abdirahman said he felt his knee pop.
"Ninety-nine percent of my career has been success. I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish," said Keflezighi, 37, who crossed the finish line draped in an American flag in what he said will be his final Olympics. "All that comes through hard work. Nothing is given to you. It's all about perseverance."
That was especially true in this race. Four months ago, Keflezighi said he couldn't walk, much less run, because of a strained gluteus muscle that limited him to four weeks of quality training in the run-up to the Games.
"You prepare the best that you can," he said. "I wish I had two more weeks."
The race started in sunny and humid conditions, with the leaders passing through the first mile in a brisk 4:48 before settling in. Keflezighi was among the leaders through 10 kilometers — reached in 30:46 — before falling well off the pace over the next five kilometers as the lead pack began to shrink.
The course, lined with an enthusiastic crowd more than eight to 10 people deep in places, looped past landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London. But Hall and Abdirahman passed some of those just once before dropping out.
"The atmosphere was electric out there. By far the best I've ever seen in my life," said Hall, who had never dropped out of a race before Sunday. "So it's a real bummer to have such a bad day when it's such an amazing atmosphere. The potential to do something really special [existed] today."
By 18 kilometers, the three eventual medalists were on their own and running easily until Kiprotich threw in a huge burst rounding a turn a little more than three miles from the finish. That quickly gave the Ugandan a 200-meter gap, which he held to the finish.
Because of poor training conditions at home, Kiprotich, 23, has been running in neighboring Kenya. And after winning only the seventh Olympic medal in his country's history, he used the opportunity to call out Uganda's sporting officials.
"I would like to send a message to the Ugandan Athletics Federation and the Minister of Sport — consider us athletes in Uganda," he said. "We need more facilities. The problem in Uganda is that we do not have the facilities. It is that which pushed me to Kenya."