John Kelai en route to his five second win at Mumbai Marathon (Mumbai Marathon organisers) © Copyright
General News Toronto, Canada

Kelai, Gigi set to defend Toronto Marathon titles

Race Directors must deal with indescribable pressures in the days leading up to the big day and for Alan Brookes of the ScotiaBank Waterfront Toronto Marathon it’s no different.

This is the 9th edition of the annual race and Brookes can’t afford to be nonchalant. The race has been awarded an IAAF Silver Label and the affable Englishman must be meticulous in detail. Asked how many times he has checked the weather forecast for the September 28th race day he responds by saying “You mean in the last hour?”

For the record, Toronto temperatures have been rather cool at 7:30 a.m. each morning this week - between 10 and 12 degrees celsius - with a high of 18 degrees predicted for the finish.

Brookes has been dealing with the usual visa concerns with some of his athletes which have thankfully been sorted. Amersisa Ketema’s passport had gone missing somewhere between the Canadian High Commission in Addis Ababa where he lives and the Canadian visa office in Nairobi. And fellow Ethiopian Atseda Bayisa had not realised she needed a Dutch transit visa since her journey to Canada’s largest city stopped in Amsterdam. Both were to arrive in Toronto on Thursday night.

Ketema looking to dethrone Kelai in men’s race, Bayisa to chase Gigi in women’s contest

Ketema has a personal best of 2:10:58 and will be one of the favourites chasing 31-year old-defending champion John Kelai of Kenya, who set the Canadian all-comers marathon record in Toronto a year ago with 2:09:30. Bayisa will offer defending champion and course record holder (2:33:16) Ashi Gigi a run for the money in the women’s event. She has a personal best of 2:29:05 set on a hilly course in Istanbul last year.

Other female contenders include Kenyans Irene Mogaka, Caroline Cheptonui and Winifredah Kwamboka as well as Olena Shurkhn of the Ukraine.

Gigi, now 34, set the course record virtually alone. Brookes has high hopes that the record will drop this year. She is certainly capable of much more as he 2:26:05 personal best from the 2004 Paris Marathon will attest.

"This is the best, deepest women's field we've had so far," Brookes claims. "It's shaping up to be the first time we've really had a women's race, with a pack. Asha has been very consistent lately around 2:28/2:29, and her experience, pitted against some exciting, young talent promises a gripping contest."

Jufar in sub-2:08 shape?

Brookes has cobbled together more than $ CAD180,000 for prize money with the first place finisher taking home $20,000. In addition there are various time bonuses. Should someone beat Kelai’s record time he will earn an additional $20,000. A sub 2:09 will earn the winner $25,000.

The fastest in the field is Tariku Jufar, 24, who was 3rd at the Hamburg Marathon in April with a personal best time of 2:08:10. Interestingly, Jufar insisted his agent, Hussein Makke, include a bonus for a sub 2:08 clocking when negotiating his Toronto contract.

“Tariku and Ketema are both in very good shape. They have been training hard for the past four months in Addis,” says their coach Hagi Adilo. “But based on what I have seen in training I think Tariku will win Toronto. They are both mentally and physically ready for Toronto.”

Adilo points to a couple of good training sessions conducted at high altitude in the past two weeks. The pair ran 16km in around 48 minutes and also did a session in which they ran 2,000m six times at times of between 5:42 and 5:45 with a short recovery.

At the steamy hot 2008 Mumbai Marathon last January Jufar and Kelai battled to the end with Kelai winning by five seconds 2:12:23 to 2:12:28. Jufar was terribly disappointed to lose as he had led most of the way and didn’t see the Kenyan until it was too late. He has vowed revenge although he concedes Kelai has an advantage in that he knows the Toronto race course.

Brookes is acutely aware his event will never attract the sub-2:07 runners whose appearance money is out of reach for the Toronto race but the course is flat and fast with relatively few turns. There are only three minor rises along the way but it can be windy along Toronto’s waterfront which is the majority of the route.

Along with Kelai, Jufar and Ketema  Peter Kiprotich who ran 2:08:58 for 3rd place at the Frankfurt marathon bears watching. They will enjoy the pacemaking of four paid professional rabbits including John Kimugal who has provided such a service at the London Marathon on a few occasions. Brookes has given them strict instructions.

“Weather conditions permitting we want 63:50 at half way,” says Brookes. “At least two of the pacemakers will go to 30km hopefully to 32km.”

The event has attracted a record 3100 entries in the marathon and a total of 15,000 for all associated events including a half marathon and 5km.

Paul Gains for the IAAF