RIO DE JANEIRO — Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya smiled as he crossed the finish line and later directed cheering fans from the podium. The one color of Olympic medal he lacked in his illustrious career finally is his.
Kipchoge grabbed the lead in the marathon Sunday around the 21-mile (35 kilometer) mark and finished off his first Olympic victory in this event in a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes and 44 seconds.
"I've won my Olympic gold medal," Kipchoge said. "It was the Olympic gold medal that's not (around) my neck."
Kipchoge's golden moment came was overshadowed by the silver medalist, Feyisa Lilesa, taking his opportunity to support protests back in his native Ethiopia. He crossed his wrists at the finish line, during the gift ceremony and again during the news conference in the symbol for the anti-government protests in Ethiopia
The nation has been marred by violence in recent weeks as government security forces have killed dozens of people amid protests over the nation's decision to take over lands in the Oromia region. Protesters are calling for more freedom and an end of government brutality.
Having relatives in prison meant Lilesa could not stay quiet on the Olympic stage, no matter the consequences.
"If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me," Lilesa said. "If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country."
American Galen Rupp, running only his second marathon, added bronze to the silver he won in the 10,000 meters in London.
Meb Keflezighi of the U.S. did some push-ups at the finish line after slipping, having a little fun to celebrate his final Olympic marathon. He finished fourth.
"It wasn't like over excessive celebration," Keflezighi said. "There's nothing to celebrate about. I'm happy to finish my fourth Olympic games here, and I'm OK with it."
For Kipchoge, this is the victory that he missed in 2008 at the Beijing Games when he finished second and also in the 2004 Athens Games where he took bronze.
The elusive gold medal came with a field of 155 runners — the largest ever in an Olympic marathon — starting in the rain from the Sambodromo stadium. The wet conditions meant spectators on the course were sparse in spots and caused several runners to re-tie shoelaces.
At the 9-mile (15 kilometer) mark, 58 runners were within 10 seconds of the lead. Then runners started breaking away with Kipchoge, Rupp and Lilesa turned the marathon into a three-man race. Kipchoge later took charge with a kick that allowed him to finish 70 seconds ahead of Lilesa.
Rupp finished in 2:10:05 — 11 seconds behind Lilesa — for a bronze that is the first American medal in this event since Keflezighi won silver in 2004. This also was the 32nd medal for the U.S. in track and field at the Rio Olympics.
Rupp said the marathon is a special event that he didn't really understand until this year. His first was at the Olympic trials in Los Angeles.
"I definitely fought it a while," Rupp said. "I was still stubborn, wanted to be a track runner and thought I could do both. I was just happy I was able to close it out the way I did."
Yonas Kinde finished 90th in the marathon as a member of the refugee team. He fled Ethiopia fearing for his safety and now lives in Luxembourg.
AP Summer Games website: http://summergames.ap.org/