"We want to make a statement,” race director Alan Brookes says proudly when assessing the stellar field assembled for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (22).
Indeed, securing the services of Kenya’s Dickson Chumba was a stroke of genius since the winner of the 2015 Chicago and 2014 Tokyo marathons was shopping around for a different autumn race this year.
The 30-year-old has been on the podium of these two World Marathon Majors a remarkable seven times. In addition, his personal best of 2:04:32 came in the ‘Windy City’ three years ago when he finished third. His addition has sparked a great deal of interest in this rapidly growing event.
Just this past February he was third in Tokyo with 2:06:25. Clearly the Toronto course record of 2:07:05 held by Ethiopia’s Derissa Chimsa in 2013 could fall, which would delight Brookes to no end. That would earn the victor $CAD 40,000 on top of the $CAD 25,000 for finishing first.
“So far my training has gone well,” Chumba declares. “If the weather will be okay on that particular day, I think I can try to attack the 2:07:05. In Tokyo I ran 2:06:25 but it was a very fast pace for the first 30km, which I paid for a bit towards the end of the race.”
Weather forecasters are predicting a clear day with temperatures around 14C with a mild breeze coming off Lake Ontario at the start so Chumba will be pleased.
Nevertheless, his participation has somewhat overshadowed the return of his compatriot and defending champion, Philemon Rono a tremendous force in his own right.
A year ago the tiny Rono injured himself during warmup when he managed to pull over a barricade while stretching his hamstrings. It hit him on the head causing a massive bruise and bleeding. There followed an anxious trans-Atlantic telephone conversation between members of his management team as to whether he should risk racing.
After three kilometres the incident was forgotten and he went on to claim his first ever marathon victory in 2:08:27. That performance and his personal best of 2:07:07 from the 2014 Hamburg Marathon certainly indicates he has much more to offer when it comes to challenging his countryman.
A strong Ethiopian contingent lies in wait however. Solomon Deksisa (2:06:22) Gebretsadik Abraha (2:06:21) and Tadese Tola (2:04:49) could make things impossibly difficult for Rono and Chumba to ply their trade. The man thought to be the primary Ethiopian challenger, Endeshaw Negesse (a 2:04:52 best and 2015 Tokyo winner), encountered visa problems and was unable to make the journey.
Asefa leads strong Ethiopian contingent in women’s race
The women’s race may not have the firepower of the men’s race but once again it is a fairly evenly matched field. Shure Demise the two-time winner represented Ethiopia at the world championships and was therefore unable to return to Toronto.
In her absence, Sutume Asefa is the fastest on paper with a 2:24:00 best from the 2016 Dubai marathon where she was fourth. Her fellow Ethiopians Marta Megra (2:24:32 at 2016 Xiamen) and Fatuma Sado (2:24:16 in Toronto 2015) are expected to be a dominant force this year. So it is left to Angela Tanui of Kenya to attempt to break up the monopoly. Earlier this year she debuted in Vienna with a fine 2:26:31 recording.
Tanui travelled to Toronto with her boyfriend Elijah Tirop who will provide pacemaking duties for the elite men. The inspiration of representing Kenya might count for enough to produce the goods on race day.
The women’s record of 2:22:43 is jointly held by Kenyan Sharon Cherop and Koren Yal of Ethiopia and will take some aggressive front running if it is to be beaten. With a field such as this the runners may find it prudent to go for the victory and forget about the time.
Paul Gains for the IAAF