On Saturday morning in Sapporo, about 500 miles north of Tokyo, Molly Seidel of the United States ran her third marathon.
It just so happened to be the Olympic marathon. And she just so happened to win the bronze medal, only the third time an American woman has reached the podium in the Olympic race.
By Sunday night in Tokyo, she was being honored on an international stage as the medals were awarded at the Olympics’ closing ceremony.
It has long been tradition to award medals at the closing ceremony to the top finishers of the men’s marathon, one of the last events of any Summer Olympics. But the medalists in the women’s marathon were also honored at the ceremony this year.
The race conditions Seidel, 27, endured were brutal. In 2019, the event was moved to Sapporo from Tokyo in an effort to escape the heat. And a few hours before it began, the race was moved once again to an earlier start time of 6 a.m. because of a record heat wave. Runners faced temperatures of 78 degrees Fahrenheit with 82 percent humidity at the start line.
Seidel didn’t seem to mind.
“Truthfully, I wanted it as hard as possible,” she said after clinching bronze. “I think I thrive off a little bit of adversity. The course in Atlanta was a tough, hilly course. When the going gets tough, that’s my strong suit,” she added, referring to the race that brought her to these Games.
Seidel ran a tactical — and gutsy — race, staying with the lead pack, if not leading herself, for the entire course.
Her goal, she said, was to “stick your nose where it doesn’t belong and try and make some people angry.”
At least 15 of the 88 entrants would drop out. Even those who had previously thrived in hot conditions, like Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya, the 2019 world champion who won a marathon in 90 degrees at midnight, fell from the lead pack.
When Seidel approached the finish line, she pumped her fists in celebration and pointed to her U.S. jersey. She let out a scream as she neared the finish.
At the last minute, her coach told her to bring her medal uniform as she left for the race.
“Why would I bring that with me?” Seidel responded.
Turns out she needed it.