Around the halfway point of the race, the Ethiopian was knocked down by another runner as she reached for her water bottle, a hard fall that bloodied her right elbow. Already aching, Gelana thought about pulling out. Instead, she found new motivation, and headed on down the road.
Gelana recovered from the fall to win the marathon on Sunday in a race that began in a downpour, was briefly brightened by sunshine and ended in another drenching rain.
She was soaked as she crossed the finish line, but she didn't seem to mind, raising her hands high to celebrate after navigating the rainy course in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 7 seconds to hold off Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya by five seconds. Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova of Russia won the bronze in the typical London weather.
"When I fell, I said, 'Oh, wow, I'm not going to finish,'" Gelana said through an interpreter. "But I just concentrated on running. All of a sudden, I made it."
Gelana said she loved running in the rain. "I have been doing that since I was a small child," she said, a bandage on her elbow. "I enjoyed my run."
There was a small group of runners in a bunched pack over the last five kilometres (three miles). But with the finish around the bend, Gelana made her move, grimacing as she surged to the front. With the rain picking up — going from a light drizzle to a deluge — she kept glancing over her shoulder to see if Jeptoo was gaining ground.
She wasn't. No one could catch Gelana as she easily coasted across the line to win the biggest race of her life and Ethiopia's second Olympic gold medal in the women's event.
While rain kept the temperature comfortable, quite a few runners still dropped out of the race:
— Liliya Shobukhova of Russia — a top contender — stopped halfway through the race with a right leg ailment.
— British runner Mara Yamauchi's day ended about eight kilometres (five miles) into the competition because of a bruised heel.
— Tetyana Filonyuk of Ukraine barely went 100 metres — about as far as Usain Bolt & Co. will sprint on the track — before calling it a day. There was no reason given.
The dreary weather didn't dampen the mood of the crowd, which lined the course holding umbrellas. The country was treated to quite a show Saturday night, with heptathlete Jessica Ennis, distance runner Mo Farah and long jumper Greg Rutherford all taking gold at the track.
The British marathoners couldn't follow up. Their best chance at a medal, Paula Radcliffe — the fastest woman ever in the marathon — didn't compete because of a foot injury.
Although the marathon traditionally ends inside the Olympic stadium, this one took the runners past some of London's biggest landmarks: Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, the Tower of London and finally right by Buckingham Palace, near the finish.
Jeptoo and teammate Mary Keitany were among the runners who stuck by Gelana for most of the race. Keitany was one of the favourites after winning the London Marathon earlier this year. But this course was very different and Keitany faded near the finish.
Still, Jeptoo tried to encourage her teammate, even grabbing Keitany a water bottle late in the race. Keitany finished fourth.
"I came here to win gold," Jeptoo said. "But to win the silver is still very, very good."
Before this race, Gelana's biggest win was the Rotterdam Marathon in the Netherlands last April, when she finished in 2:18:58 to set a national record.
Gelana is from Bekoji, a town of 16,000 that has produced quite a few Olympic gold medallists and featured in a new film called "Town of Runners." Tirunesh Dibaba, the women's 10,000-meter winner on Friday, and Kenenisa Bekele, who won the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the 2008 Beijing Games, also are from the area.
The only other Ethiopian woman to win at the Olympics was Fatuma Roba at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
"Fatuma is my hero," Gelana said. "I am extremely happy to share history with her. This gold medal is a gift for all Ethiopians."Suggest a correction