Most Olympians train and compete in their events for years, fine-tuning every element of their performance before taking those efforts to the world stage. Not Molly Seidel. The 27-year-old American from Wisconsin had only run two marathons before she tackled the distance at the Tokyo Games.
The lack of experience didn’t seem to hinder Seidel, who endured brutal heat, humidity, and fierce competition to upset the field and clinch the bronze medal on Friday, becoming only the third American woman to ever podium in the 26.2-mile event. Seidel joins distance running legends Joan Benoit Samuelson (winner of the first women’s Olympic marathon at the 1984 Games) and Deena Kastor (bronze medalist at the 2004 Games) on the short list of American women who have earned Olympic hardware in the event.
Kenya finished 1-2 in the race, with Peres Jepchirchir earning gold with a time of 2:27:20 and current world-record holder Brigid Kosgei coming in second in 2:27:36. Seidel finished 10 seconds behind Kosgei with a third-place time of 2:27:46. She kept with the lead pack for almost the entire event, hanging on as others dropped off.
Seidel, a national collegiate cross-country champion who ran her first ever marathon at the U.S. Olympic Trials in February 2020 (yes, she qualified for the Olympic team in her first take at 26.2), seemed to find motivation in her status as an underdog.
“I wanted to go and be that person who, when you’re racing, they’re all saying, ‘Who the hell is this girl?'” Seidel said after the race, according to NPR. “I just wanted to stick my nose in where it didn’t belong and get after it. The Olympics only happen every four years; you might as well take your shot.”
Running 26.2 miles is never easy, but Seidel and her competitors tackled the distance amid especially tough conditions, including 86% humidity and road temperatures above 100 degrees, NBC News reported. In fact, conditions were expected to be so rough that the marathon was moved back an hour, starting at 6.00 A.M. Tokyo time, to try to beat some of the heat. “It still was incredibly difficult,” Seidel said after the race, “but this is what we train for.”
In a post finish-line interview, Seidel got emotional upon seeing a live stream of her friends and family, who had gathered in Nashotah, Wisconsin, to watch the race and cheer her from afar. With an American flag draped around her shoulders, Seidel simultaneously laughed and choked back tears as she video chatted with the crowd. “Oh my God you guys,” she said. “We did it! I’m good, I’m so tired. Please, please drink a beer for me.”