Luvsanlkhündegiin Otgonbayar: The slow process of making history

Luvsanlkhundeg Otgonbayar of Mongolia makes the final turn before finishing the women's marathon at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Luvsanlkhundeg Otgonbayar of Mongolia makes the final turn before finishing the women's marathon at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records and stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopaedia of strange, funny, emotional and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye. This week: The story of the slowest Olympic marathon finisher. 

The background

Luvsanlkhündegiin Otgonbayar not only has one of the greatest names in Olympic history, but she also has an Olympic record. It may not be the most impressive one, however, it is a record nonetheless.

The record was achieved at Athens 2004, but her story as an athlete began long before that.

Otgonbayar was born in Mongolia in 1982 and fell in love with long distance running. When she was only 16-years-old, she competed in her first major competition, running in the 3,000m and 5,000m events at the 1998 World Junior Championships in Annency, France.

Six years later, Otgonbayar made a huge leap when she qualified for the greatest sporting competition on earth: the Olympic Games.

But this time she would be racing in the legendary marathon event.

The final

By the time the Mongolian athlete finished the marathon at Athens 2004, the crowd were engrossed by every step she made.

It wasn’t because Otgonbayar was heading towards a medal, but for a far more modest reason: the simple goal of finishing the race.

In the end it took Otgonbayar 3:48:42 to complete the race, over 30 minutes more than the next slowest finisher. It remains the record for the slowest finish ever in an Olympic marathon race.

Otgonbayar had struggled with the intense heat in Athens, but supported by the crowd, she had still managed to finish.

The outcome

If you think a result like that would make Otgonbayar give up running, think again. She continued running marathons at an elite level, including the at the 2007 IAAF World Championships, the 2008 Beijing Marathon (finished sixth), the 2009 Shanghai Marathon (finished fifth) and the 2011 Praha Marathon (finished eighth).

Then came her second Olympics - London 2012. Otgonbayar destroyed her previous Olympic time, coming home in 2:52:15 to take the 102nd position out of 107 finishers.

But the best was yet to come. In March 2016, the athlete set a personal best of 2:35:50 at the Zhengzhou Marathon in the People's Republic of China.

That same year she also took part also in her third Olympic Games, Rio 2016. She completed the 42km in 2:45:55 and placed 85th, her best result at an Olympics.

Otgonbayar retired in 2016. There couldn't have been a better way to end her career.