Twenty years ago Alan Brookes was a running advocate who recognised the need for quality road races in Canada. Entrepreneurial by nature he launched the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon which for the second consecutive year has earned the distinction of being an IAAF Silver Label race.
Joan Benoit Samuelsson, the 1984 Olympic marathon champion and winner here in 1990 and 1991 will join the festivities as special guest at the pre-race pasta dinner. She is also set to run the half marathon distance. But this is merely one of the side events to what promises to be an exceptional marathon.
Brookes has assembled a quality men’s field for Sunday’s Twentieth Anniversary race which he believes is capable of bringing down John Kelai’s Canadian all-comers record of 2:09:30, set at the 2007 edition of this race.
The 58-year-old is under no false illusions as to where the Toronto event ranks against the marathon majors.
“I'd like to feel that over the last three or four years especially that we have really begun to carve out a place in North America as a good opportunity on the circuit,” he declares, “especially for young up and comers, to come and run a fast time on our flat course that can help in the development of their careers.”
Brookes offers as an example Daniel Rono who won the race in 2006 and finished second a year ago. The Kenyan then went on to win the Rotterdam marathon in 2:06:58 and also finished 3rd in New York.
“He was a 2:12 marathoner when he first came to Toronto,” says Brookes. “We have worked hard to put an elite programme in place one that looks after the athletes well and provides good pacemaking in the race. We give every opportunity for young up and coming talent to get valuable experience, improve their time and move their career along.”
The 7:30 a.m. start may prove beneficial to the runners if not the spectators who might struggle to get out on the course that early on a Sunday morning. A high of 22 celsius is predicted for race day but it has been cool early in the morning. And with the course among the flattest available on the marathon circuit the conditions could be just right for the elites to battle.
There are potentially a half dozen men with a shot at the $20,000 first place prize including defending champion Kenneth Mungara. A year ago he ran 2:11:01 for the victory while Kelai managed 5th in 2:12:42.
“Mungara could win again,” says his agent Derek Froude who is sending three athletes - all from Kenya - to Toronto. “Look at his credentials, winning even in Prague he had some injury problems but held on for 3rd place. For him it was a bad run but he is always competitive. Probably he will have to cut his personal best down if he is to win again. Lot of his 2:10’s have been run in less than ideal conditions.”
In addition to Mungara, Froude and Brookes have high hopes for Joseph Maregu who ran 2:09:25 in his debut marathon in Vienna this past spring and Sammy Mwangi who will plunge into the full marathon distance for the first time ever after posting a series of excellent half marathons including a 59:55 clocking in Berlin.
Also expected to be amongst the contenders is Gashaw Melese Asfaw of Ethiopia who was 7th in the Beijing Olympic marathon in 2:10:52.
The women’s race sees the return of defending champion Mulu Seboka who set a Toronto course record of 2:29:06 last year.
Lydia Cheromei of Kenya, won the Amsterdam marathon last October in 2:25:57. In April she placed second at the Rotterdam Marathon in a very good 2:28:09. Another to watch is Amane Gobena of Ethiopia who finished 2nd in the Los Angeles marathon in a new personal best of 2:26:53.
Scotiabank has put up a $25,000 Cdn bonus for a new Canadian all comers record which is currently held by Romania’s Lidia Simon. Her time of 2:26:01 harks back to the 2001 IAAF World Championships in Edmonton.
Canadian hopes rest with Lioudmila Kortchaguina a Russian born veteran at 38 years of age who has proven herself a strong adversary on Canadian soil. After missing the 2008 Olympics she returned to competition with a 3rd place finish in Houston this past January in a time of 2:30:43 and would like nothing better than to upset the favourites.
Paul Gains for the IAAF