Could Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga break the World 10k record just a month after winning the 2009 Boston Marathon? “That’s the $100,000 question,” said his agent Hussein Makke referring to the bonus money on offer for beating Micah Kogo’s pending record time of 27:01 at the MDS Nordion 10km in Ottawa.
The event - an IAAF Silver Label Road Race - started at 6:30 p.m. with large crowds turning out in sunny 20 degree temperatures to learn the answer.
The elite athlete coordinator Manny Rodrigues had enlisted the services of two pace makers Kenya’s Boaz Cheboiywo and Ethiopian Dereje Tadesse who toed the line in front of more than 9000 entrants.
Despite his best efforts the 28 year old Merga fell short running a course record of 27:23.9 in an incredible solo effort. He earned himself USUS$5,000 “gender bonus” for closing down the four minute twelve seconds head start given to the women elite racers as well as US$2,000 for a new course record.
Race director John Halvorsen, a former Norwegian international, held the previous record of 28:12 albeit on a slightly different route.
As early as two kilometres it was clear that the record attempt was in jeopardy. Merga pulled up alongside Cheboiywa after opening kilometres splits of 2:37 and 5:17 and indicated he wanted the pace to pick up. The Kenyan balked and so too did Tadesse. In the next kilometre Merga was all alone.
By 5k Merga was chasing the pace car which contained Makke shouting encouragement. He passed the halfway point in 13:31 and went on to set an unofficial world 8km best of 21:48.
The scenic and very flat course follows the picturesque Rideau Canal but Merga probably didn’t notice. One by one he passed the elite women racers and sprinted home for the course record. As he crossed the line he smiled and held up his hand to signal he was number one.
Though he was elated with the victory his agent was less than pleased with the efforts of the pace makers. “We had a World record today,” Makke declared, “But there were no pacemakers!”
Cheboiywo crossed the line a distant second place in a time of 28:16.1.
Kenyan Hosea Kibet Rutto finished third in 28:20.1 with defending champion Julius Kiptoo unable to do better than 8th in 28:53.3. The expected dual between Merga and Patrick Makau also never materialised. The Kenyan edged out Kiptoo with his 28:52.8.
The women’s victor was fellow Ethiopian Teyba Erkesso who led from the first kilometre on and never was in jeopardy. Her time of 31:50.4 was well outside Grace Momanyi’s 2005 course record of 31:24. The defending champion Emebet Bacha was a distance second in 32:44.8 with Jane Murage of Kenya finishing 3rd in 33:05.4
“I am pleased with my race,” Erkesso, who is also managed by Makke, said. “It is a beautiful course right along the water. Now I will leave Sunday for the Boulder Bolder 10km.”
After composing himself and digesting the race in his mind Merga dressed himself in a tracksuit them patiently answered questions. The son of farmers from Wolega in the Oromia region of Ethiopia speaks very little English. Training partner and 4th place finisher Worku Beyi (28:35.5) served as translater.
“If the pacemakers had taken it out I would have broken the World record,” Merga promised. “I am happy to have won but I wanted the World record. My time is not good.”
In his defense Cheboiywo claimed the pace was way too fast and that Merga should have been more patient.
At the Beijing Olympics Merga had been in medal position upon entering the Bird’s Nest stadium but plagued with stomach problems he wound up fourth. He says he has learned from the experience. Now he will return to Addis Ababa and prepare for the World Championships in Berlin. He has been named to the Ethiopian team for the marathon.
Makke meanwhile asserted his star client will once again attack the world 10k record one day. On the strength of what we witnessed this evening he is capable of achieving this mark.
Paul Gains for the IAAF
1. Deriba Merga (Ethiopia) 27:24
2. Boaz Cheboiywo (Kenya) 28:17
3. Hosea Kibet Rutto (Kenya) 28:21
4. Worku Beyi (Ethiopia) 28:36
5. Silas Sang (Kenya) 28:38
6. Paul Langat (Kenya) 28:45
7. Patrick Makau (Kenya) 38:53
8. Julius Kiptoo (Kenya) 28:54
9. Samuel Ndereba (Kenya) 29:14
10. Abderrahime Bouramdane (Morocco) 29:18
1. Teyba Erkesso (Ethiopia) 31:51
2. Emebet Bacha (Ethiopia) 32:45
3. Jane Murage (Kenya) 33:06
4. Hyvon Ngetich (Kenya) 33:12
5. Jane Kibii (Kenya) 33:34
6. Tara Quinn-Smith (Canada) 33:39
7. Kathy Tremblay (Canada) 34:53
8. Lucy Smith (Canada) 35:12
9. Lisa Harvey (Canada) 35:57
10. Paula Wiltse (Canada) 37:24