Yemane Tsegay wins the 2014 Ottawa Marathon (organisers / Victah Sailor) © Copyright
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Spotlight on Ethiopians Tsegay and Burka in Ottawa

An epic battle awaits spectators lining the course of the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (27), provided the weather forecasters cooperate.

The long-awaited return of Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay, who set the men’s course record of 2:06:54 in 2014, is one major cause for optimism.

A year after his great victory, which also earned him a Hyundai SUV for setting the Canadian All-comers’ mark, he kept himself rather busy finishing second in Boston then second at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. A victory at the 2016 Fukuoka Marathon confirmed his status as one of the most consistent marathoners in the world.

With much of the attention focused on the 33-year-old, it has been easy to forget that another former champion will also start, 2017 winner Eliud Kiptanui from Kenya.

 

Eliud Kiptanui wins the Ottawa Marathon (Bruce Wodder (Photorun) / organisers)Eliud Kiptanui wins the Ottawa Marathon (Bruce Wodder (Photorun) / organisers) © Copyright

 

A year ago he was a late addition to the race after dropping out of the Vienna Marathon. A visa problem caused havoc with his travel and he turned up in the Austrian capital only the day before that race. Wishing to live to fight another day his agent rang up Ottawa race coordinator Manny Rodrigues afterwards and offered his service. Kiptanui’s reward was the CAD $40,000 first place prize. With a personal best of 2:05:21 recorded while finishing second in the 2015 Berlin Marathon the challenge he presents to Tsegay is formidable.

Organisers were disappointed earlier in the week to receive news that Tigist Tufa, the 2014 winner and course record holder at 2:24:31, had withdrawn due to a persistent injury. In her absence, Ethiopian compatriot Gelete Burka is the class of the women’s field thanks to the stunning 2:20:45 personal best she ran in Dubai in January. The fact she has won world and Olympic medals at distances from 1500m to 10,000m only enhances her reputation. 

 

Geleta Burka (Getty Images)Geleta Burka (Getty Images) © Copyright

 

Though she has only run 2:27:21 Sara Hall of the US has a knack for finding her way onto the podium as she has done in Chicago and New York in the past few years.

The 23-year-old Ethiopian Hiwot Gebrekidan also deserves some respect. A year ago she led until the closing stages of this race and desperately hung on to claim second place and CAD $20,000.

Competitive fields in Saturday’s 10km

Ottawa is unique in that it has two IAAF Gold Label races on the same weekend and the sight of the elite marathon runners huddled together near the start of the Ottawa 10k on Saturday evening has become a familiar one.

The assembled 10k field is incredibly well balanced with no clear favourite. Mohamed Ziani, the 2016 winner, sports a personal best of 27:28 set in Casablanca two years ago. This year he resigned his post with Morocco’s Royal Guard to focus on training. He will face a pair of young Kenyans, Benard Kipkorir Ngeno and Japan-based Benard Kimeli. The latter won the 2017 Prague 10k in a brilliant 27:10 the equal the seventh best performance ever. More recently he ran 59:47 to win the Prague Half Marathon. Having arrived from Japan on Wednesday, a day earlier than his competitors, he might have an advantage.

 

Benard Kimeli triumphs at Prague half marathon (organisers)Benard Kimeli triumphs at Prague half marathon (organisers) © Copyright

 

Ngeno, 22, has been on a winning streak of late taking the Azalea Trail 10km (27:45) and setting course records in both the Fresh 15km (43:37) in Texas and Dismal Swamp Half Marathon in Virginia, clocking 1:02:28. Not to be discounted is 19-year-old Andamlak Belihu Berta who represented Ethiopia at the 2017 World Championships where he ran a personal best 27:08.94 in the 10,000m.

Although her personal best is just 31:07 Edith Chelimo of Kenya can run much faster. Last November she won the Cardiff Half Marathon in a stunning 1:05:52 passing the 10k mark in 30:56. This is not her first visit to Ottawa. Shortly after arriving in the Canadian capital a year ago she was diagnosed with a serious kidney infection and confined to a hospital bed for a couple of days. Now she is eager to get the job done.

Chelimo will be the favourite in the women’s race though she will have to be on her toes to stave off the potential challenge of her compatriot Gladys Kimaina, who arrives with a 31:15 personal best, and Alia Saeed Mohammed of UAE. She’s clocked 31:10.25 for 10,000m and knows she can run as fast on the roads.

Paul Gains for the IAAF