Kempainen struggles to poor finish at Olympics

Ryan Schuster

After months of speculation about his various physical ailments, University Medical School graduate Bob Kempainen ran to a disappointing 31st place Sunday morning in the men’s Olympic marathon.
He appeared to be hampered by the nagging tendinitis he has in both legs, his strained quadriceps and a tender hamstring — all of which happened while training for the marathon this spring.
Kempainen ran the 26.2-mile race in 2:18.38, which was almost six minutes off his pace at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials Feb. 17.
The 111-man run through the streets and suburbs of Atlanta was won by the Republic of South Africa’s Josia Thugwane, who became the first black South African to win an Olympic gold medal. He beat Korea’s Lee Bong-Ju by only three seconds, making this the closest Olympic marathon in history.
Thugwane finished in a time of 2:12.36, which means if Kempainen would have run the same time he did in the Trials he could have competed for a medal.
Kempainen said his injuries held him back.
“I was running in a lot of pain,” he said after the race. “I just didn’t have it today.”
After placing 17th at the 1992 Barcelona Games, Kempainen set his sights on a top 10 finish this summer in Atlanta. But it was obvious he was not the same Bob Kempainen that won the U.S. Trials five and a half months ago in Charlotte, N.C., with a record time.
Kempainen said his training was cut short in the months leading up to the Olympics and that he is not used to placing so low.
“This is the first marathon I really died in,” he said. “This is definitely the longest I’ve run since February.”
Kempainen finished three places behind fellow American teammate Keith Brantly, who was third in the Trials. Mark Coogan, also of the U.S., took 41st.
Despite having a tough race, Kempainen can at least take heart in the reception he received from the crowd at the Olympic Stadium, which included his parents.
“I couldn’t believe how supportive people were,” Kempainen said. “It was really great.”
For now, Kempainen will concentrate on a two year residency that he will begin serving at a Minneapolis hospital in the fall. He said he is still uncertain about his future in running.
“It’s hard for me to be objective about what’s going to happen two years from now,” Kempainen said.
But no doubt the door will always be open for him to return to the sport for another shot at the gold.