While the men’s marathon has been a staple of the Olympics since the first modern Games in 1896, women were not allowed to run the 26.2-mile race until the 1984 Summer Games, which were held in Los Angeles. Now both the men’s and women’s races are among the most anticipated events on the Olympic calendar.

Here’s what to know about this year’s marathon at the Tokyo Olympics.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is the Olympic marathon?
  • Where will the Olympic marathon take place?
  • Who will represent the United States in marathon?
  • Who are the contenders for medals in marathon?
  • What does the course look like?
  • Will there be spectators?

When is the Olympic marathon?

The women’s race is scheduled for Aug. 7, and the men will run on Aug. 8, the final day of Olympic competition.

Where will the Olympic marathon take place?

While the bulk of the Olympic competition takes place in Tokyo, the marathon races will be staged in Sapporo, which is located 500 miles north of the host city. Local Olympic organizers were eager to keep the race in Tokyo, but the International Olympic Committee pushed to relocate both marathons and the racewalking events in October 2019 due to concerns about high temperatures in Tokyo.

Who will represent the United States in marathon?

The United States staged its Olympic trials in February 2020, so the top American runners have had nearly one and a half years to prepare for the Sapporo course.

Galen Rupp, 35, was the top men’s qualifier, posting a first-place time of 2 hours 9 minutes 20 seconds at trials and earning a spot in his fourth Olympic Games. Rupp won silver in the men’s 10,000 meters at the 2012 Games before tackling the marathon four years later. He took bronze in the 2016 Olympic marathon with a time of 2:10:05, even though it was only the second time in his life that he tackled a 26.2-mile course.

He’ll be joined in Tokyo by fellow Americans Jake Riley and Abdi Abdirahman. Riley, 32, was 42 seconds behind Rupp at trials and was also the top American finisher at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. The Somali-born Abdirahman will be competing in his fifth Olympics and at 44 years old will be the oldest American runner to ever compete in a Summer Games.

Kenyan-born Aliphine Tuliamuk won the women’s marathon trials with a time of 2:27:23, and will be making her Olympic debut at age 32. Before the Tokyo Games were postponed due to covid-19, Tuliamuk had planned on starting a family immediately following the 2020 Olympics. The year-long delay changed her timeline and she gave birth to her daughter, Zoe, in January.

She’ll be joined at trials by Molly Seidel, who finished the trials just eight seconds behind Tuliamuk, and Sally Kipyego. The 27-year old Seidel will be making her Olympic debut. She was also the second American woman finisher at the 2020 London Marathon.

Kipyego, 35, is a decorated long-distance runner who will be competing in her second Olympics. Running for her native Kenya in 2012, she took silver in the 10,000-meter race.

Who are the contenders for medals in marathon?

Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan great and world record-holder, is still a podium threat whenever he laces up his shoes, and he’ll be looking to defend his Olympic title at these Games.

On the women’s side, the world rankings have been topped all year by Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter and Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich.

What does the course look like?

In Sapporo, both marathon races will start and finish at Odori Park. After running two laps around the park, runners will tackle a three-loop race route.

The first large loop is about the length of a half-marathon, and then runners will face a second, shorter loop, which measures about 10 kilometers and must be completed twice.

Along the way, runners will get a scenic tour of Sapporo, running by the Toyohira River and Hokkaido University, among other landmarks.

Will there be spectators?

Typically, fans would line the Olympic marathon race route, cheering on runners as they plow through mile after mile. But local organizers decided in July that both the men’s and women’s marathons would take place on empty streets with no spectators on-hand to support the runners. The decision was a disappointment to many in Japan, where the marathon is an especially popular sporting event.

What’s the issue with the heat?

From the day the Olympics were awarded to Tokyo, there have been concerns about how outdoor events like the marathon would fare in extreme conditions. The IOC’s initial solution was to move the start times of the race to 6 a.m., hoping to beat the heat in Tokyo.

But after many long-distance runners struggled with the high temperatures at the 2019 world championships in Doha, IOC officials pushed to relocate the marathon races and race-walk events to Sapporo, hoping cooler temperatures would allow for safer competitions.

Who won in Rio?

Kipchoge won the men’s Olympic marathon at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games with a time of 2:08:44, which was more than a minute faster than second-place finisher, Feyisa Lilesa, of Ethiopia. Rupp was third, posting his personal-best time.

The women’s race was won by Kenya’s Jemima Sumgong, who finished in 2:24:04, nine seconds ahead of Bahrain’s Eunice Kirwa. Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba was third, and Shalane Flanagan was the top American, crossing the finish line in sixth, 1:22 behind Sumgong.

Sumgong was the first Kenyan woman to win Olympic gold in the marathon. In February 2017 she failed an out-of-competition drug test and was issued a four-year ban. Her punishment was doubled in 2019 to an eight-year ban when World Athletics, the global governing body for track and field, ruled that Sumgong had fabricated her medical records and provided false statements related to her case.