London • Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia didn't think she could finish the Olympic marathon Sunday, much less cross the line first to deny Kenya another gold medal in the historic race.
Midway through the endurance test, the 24-year-old got plowed from behind while collecting a water bottle on a narrow street in central London. She hit the pavement on all fours, scrambled to get up with her bottle, then was hit again by Portugal's Jessica Agusto.
Later, Gelana showed off a bandaged elbow and pointed to her hip, shaking her head that yes, it also hurt.
After the incident she thought, "Oh, wow, how can I finish? All of a sudden I made it."
Yes, she did. Gelana became the first Ethiopian woman in 18 years to win the marathon, finishing with an Olympic record time of 2 hours, 23 minutes, 7 seconds. Gelana was 5 seconds in front of Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya and 22 seconds ahead of bronze medalist Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova of Russia.
Kenya's Mary Keitany, two-time winner of the London Marathon, was fourth after being dropped by the leading pack in the final, dramatic stages.
Americans Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher finished 10th and 11th, respectively, both with respectable times. Flanagan, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters, came across in 2:25:51. Goucher ended in 2:26:07.
Desiree Davila of Rochester, Minn., dropped out early because of a lingering hip problem.
"You can't fake the marathon," she said.
Flanagan, who trains with Goucher in Portland, Ore., was among the leaders midway through the race on a cool day with soaking rain and patches of glaring sun.
But when some of the world's leading distance runners found another gear at about 13 miles, the Americans lagged.
"That course was really hard," Flanagan said. "I was really struggling those last four miles keeping it together."
Both limped away at the finish because of cramping. They might have been disappointed to finish outside of the top three. But the Americans came close to running their best times along a 26.2-mile route that looped its way like a tour guide past such landmarks as Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, Tower of London and Buckingham Palace.
"I'm honestly just kind of like, wow,'' said Goucher, of Minnesota. "This is the most pain I've been in since childbirth. So I know I couldn't have done any more."
The marathon is one of the most unpredictable spectacles in sports. Although the 118-runner field had six marathoners who had gone faster than 2:20, it wasn't easy to predict what would happen.
"We all have these perceived boundaries of what we're capable of," Flanagan said. "I wanted to find out what I was capable of. I probably gambled a little bit. But you never know."
The painful race began taking its toll along streets lined with thousands of spectators. Pre-race favorite Liliya Shobukhova of Russia suddenly stopped at the midway point. The first runner to win the Chicago Marathon three years in a row hobbled off the course, grimacing.
Just as Shobukhova faltered, the paced hastened with three Kenyans and three Ethiopians putting on pressure. Five of those leaders already had broken the barrier of 2:20 in their careers.
The field got strung out as they passed the Tower of London. In the end, it became apparent East Africa's runners would remain in the spotlight.
But it wasn't a Kenyan despite the presence of revered runners Edna Kiplagat and Keitany, who suffered from back cramps, according to Jeptoo. No Kenyan woman has won an Olympic marathon since the event was introduced in 1984.
On the other side, Gelana joined Fatuma Roba as her country's marathon gold medalists. Roba won at the Atlanta Games in 1996. Gelana also followed Ethiopian teammate Tirunesh Dibaba, who won the 10,000 meters Friday night.
Jeptoo wasn't crushed by finishing second. She tried to work with her Kenyan teammates. But she had to make a move when Keitany and Kiplagat faded near the finish.
"I didn't want to leave them behind," Jeptoo said. "I had to react to follow Tiki."
Petrova had perhaps the most gallant effort on the day. After falling behind the Africans, she made a late surge to rejoin the leaders. No matter what they did, the Africans couldn't shake Petrova.
The slick conditions didn't bother the former steeplechase champion. Her former specialty "helped me jump over the puddles," Petrova said.
Gelana, who won at Rotterdam this year, said she loves the rain. But she wasn't going to take any chances after her mid-race mishap.
"I knew if I fell again I wouldn't finish," she said.