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Team USA's Molly Seidel wins surprise bronze in Olympic marathon in 100-degree heat

She battled high humidity, heat and low expectations to medal in the 26.2-mile race.
Image: Molly Seidel crosses finish line
Molly Seidel of the United States celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the bronze medal in the women's marathon at the Tokyo Olympics, in Sapporo, Japan, on Aug. 7, 2021.Shuji Kajiyama / AP
/ Source: NBC News

U.S. Olympic marathoner Molly Seidel shocked the running world Friday, winning a bronze medal in only her third attempt at the marathon.

Seidel, 27, became the first American female marathoner to medal since Deena Kastor won bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Seidel, a collegiate cross-country champion, battled heat and humidity to hang with some of the world’s best female marathoners, including Kenyan runners Peres Jepchirchir, who won the race to earn gold, and the female marathon world-record holder, Brigid Kosgei, who took silver.

The Wisconsin native, who was not expected to reach the podium at the Olympics, managed to stick with the top runners as the lead pack was whittled down to three in the closing few miles of the race.

Officials decided last year to move the marathon to Sapporo, Japan, about 500 miles north of Tokyo where the rest of the Olympics action is taking place, with the hope of cooler temperatures. It didn't work. Seidel and the other runners battled 86% humidity and road temperatures above 100 degrees.

Seidel earned her ticket to Japan in her very first marathon at the U.S. Olympic trials in Atlanta in February 2020.

Before the race aired on NBC, commentators showed a photo of Seidel at age 10. She had written in a class assignment that she hoped to one day go to the Olympics and win a gold medal.

After the competition, she told NBC that she was in disbelief.

"I can’t believe it, just getting here was already a dream come true and to be able to come out to a field like this and be able to come away with a medal," she said. "I just cant believe this right now, I’m so grateful for everyone who got me here and I’m so happy."

She joked that she just wanted to "come out today, get up in it (and) stick my nose where it didn’t belong."

When she saw footage of her parents and family cheering from Wisconsin, she burst into tears.

"We did it! I'm so tired," she told them. "Please drink a beer for me!"

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.

Samantha Kubota contributed.