All smiles - Deriba Merga wins in Boston (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Ottawa, Canada

Merga vs Makau over 10km - Ottawa prepares itself for a world class weekend of road racing

Setting a World record in Saturday’s MDS Nordion 10km (23) in Ottawa would continue a phenomenal season for Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga.

This weekend this Canadian city will host a 10km and a Marathon, which are both IAAF Silver Label Road Races.

Earlier this year (Ras Al Khaimah, 20/02/2009)  the 28-year-old Merga equalled** Felix Limo’s World 15km best in a time of 41:29, and then last month went on to win the Boston Marathon in 2:08:42. That’s two colossal achievements in a very short span.

Merga is an enormous and versatile talent. Two years ago he ran a track personal best for 10,000m of 27:02.62, and in 2008 set a PB of 2:06:38 when coming sixth at the London Marathon, and was unlucky to miss out on an Olympic marathon medal in Beijing where he finished fourth.

Since his Boston Marathon victory on 20 April Merga has been training at home in Addis Ababa with the World 10km record in mind, the global mark of 27:01 which is currently held** by Kenya’s Micah Kogo (Brunssum, 29/03/2009).

Yet neither the World record nor victory will come easy in Ottawa.

Merga ran his 15km time en route in the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, and a second behind him at that split was Kenya’s Patrick Makau Musyoki. But by the end of the race it was Makau who held the upper hand winning the half marathon in 58:52 with Merga well beaten in third in 59:18. It was a PB for the Kenyan, the second fastest run of all-time, while Merga was just outside his career best (59:15, New Delhi, 9 Nov 2008).

Makau will also be racing in Ottawa, and both men have the same 27:42 PB for 10km, again from the Ras Al Khaimah race. An intriguing and possibly epic battle between two of the world's best road racers awaits!

Another top Kenyan will also be vying for the win, reigning champion Julius Kiptoo, who battled jet lag and a head wind over the final four kilometres to win in 28:37 a year ago, returns to defend his title.

Organisers have put up a World record bonus of $100,000. The winner will receive $5,000.

Elite Athlete director Manny Rodrigues says the course has been altered somewhat since Race director John Halvorsen, a former Norwegian international, raced to a time of 28:12 way back in 1988.

“The course John ran on is an older course which was probably a bit slower,” Rodrigues says. “That started on Parliament Hill. It had a different start and finish.”

“This course is… flat and fast. The only hill is at 5km. You have to cross a bridge to get over the Rideau canal. It’s only a 5m rise over a kilometre. It’s sort of an out and back course. You go down one side of the canal then back along the other side. It minimises the number of turns. Actually there are only six turns.”

One of the challenges facing Rodrigues is finding pacemakers capable of pulling the favourites through the half way point in under 13:30. Boaz Cheboiywo and Dereje Tadesse (Ethiopia) have been enlisted for the task. The latter won the Cleveland Rite Aid 10k last weekend in 28:55. Cheboiywo, who was born in Kenya but now resides in Michigan, is also in very good shape having run 28:31 for 3rd place in New York’s Healthy Kidney 10k.

Marathon – experience counts

The Ottawa marathon is being run for the first time in five years without a title sponsor. John Halvorsen says the organisers are actively searching for a replacement for ING for 2010 but participants in all events will still receive the exceptional treatment for which the Ottawa weekend has come to be known.

The numbers are growing every year and both major events are sold out. At the front of the marathon pack in the women’s race three-time Canadian champion Lioudmila Kortchaguina is expected to challenge for the $15,000 first place prize money and the honour of being the first female to win Ottawa five times. She won in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007. A year ago she was an eleventh hour scratch. Earlier this year she ran 2:30:34 to finish 3rd at the Houston Marathon at the age of 36.

Defending champion Asmae Leghzaoui of Morocco returns to the Canadian capital. Others bearing a second look are Liza Hunter-Galvan (New Zealand), a
consistent 2:30 marathoner and Irene Jerotich Kosgei of Kenya who has also run in the 2:31 range.

Underscoring the critical role experience plays in marathoning David Cheruiyot of Kenya, a three time Ottawa winner also returns. Now 39-year-old he still believes he is capable of a sub 2:10 clocking. A year ago he blamed the lack of pacemakers at 30km for missing the course record of 2:10:36 he himself set in 2007.

“I hope to run 2:09 on Sunday,” he declared from his home in Kapsabet, Kenya.” I hope to run maybe five more years. It’s my work now. I don’t work, that is my job. I have some businesses but I want to run.”

Once again others in the strong African contingent are expected to fight for the prize money. Luka Chelimo of Kenya, Ethiopia’s Ketema Tadesse and Ahmed Baday of Morocco have all run under 2:11.

Victory is worth $15,000 with a sub 2:10 bonus of $5,000 also on offer. Should be an extraordinary weekend in Ottawa.

Paul Gains for the IAAF

*Pending usual ratification procedures