Spectators lining the streets of Ottawa on Saturday night (24) will witness an epic race as two-time New York Marathon champion Geoffrey Mutai faces 2010 world half marathon champion Wilson Kiprop in the Lowertown Brewery Ottawa 10km, the first of the Canadian capital city’s two IAAF Silver Label Road Races.
The Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon is scheduled for the following morning (25).
Mutai and Kiprop have been pitted against one another several times over the years in Kenya with Kiprop winning all four of their duels, but they have never raced each other abroad, nor have they raced against one another on the roads.
The edge may once again go to Kiprop this time as Mutai ran the London Marathon last month, finishing a disappointed sixth in 2:08:18. Nevertheless, Mutai – a past winner of the Boston, Berlin and New York Marathons – relishes the challenge.
“After London, up until now, I am not too sure of my fitness as I have not yet trained fully,” said Mutai after stepping off a cross-Atlantic sleep-deprived flight from Nairobi via Amsterdam and Toronto.
“My body is ok and I have recovered, I have good energy,” he added. “For me 10km is ok. I have prepared myself mentally. It is different from when you are preparing yourself for a marathon. I have already prepared my mind. Racing Wilson, he is my colleague. It will be good for Wilson and me to run together and see if we can run a very good time.”
While Mutai had dinner with his manager, Kiprop had locked himself away in his room upon arrival, the journey having exacted a toll. Still, the pair have three days to find their feet.
“I am hungry to race,” Kiprop said, having emerged from jet lag. “It will be a tough race but when you are hungry you must feed your stomach.”
The course record of 27:24, set by Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga in 2009, could be in danger if the conditions are right, although the forecast is for humid and warm temperatures by the 6:30pm start time.
Merga was originally confirmed to race here but when he failed to turn up for his flight from Addis, the organisers learned he was a late withdrawal.
Ottawa is the only city to hold two IAAF Silver Label Road Races and racing fans will also see Mary Keitany’s return to competition after giving birth to her daughter Samantha last year. Her last race was the marathon at the London 2012 Olympics, where she finished fourth.
A two-time London Marathon winner, Keitany also has a 10km personal best of 30:45 set en route to breaking the world half marathon record in Ras Al Khaimah. Now 32, the talented Kenyan faces her compatriot Caroline Kilel as well as the younger 24-year-old Ethiopian Yebrqual Melese.
Having won the Ethiopian 10,000m title last year, Melese could prove a handful in Keitany’s celebrated return.
Ethiopia’s Tsegay and Worku the marathon favourites
Organisers of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend are also hopeful that the marathon will produce a Canadian all-comers’ record. The existing record is 2:07:05, set by Derissa Chimsa in Toronto last October.
Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay is the fastest on paper with a best of 2:04:48 set when winning the 2012 Rotterdam Marathon. But the 29-year-old won the Daegu Marathon on 6 April in 2:06:51 and seven weeks may not be enough to adequately recover and then prepare for a task such as this.
His compatriot Bazu Worku has also been busy in 2014, winning the Houston (2:07:32) and Lake Biwa (2:09:10) marathons. Ottawa will be his third marathon in fewer than five months.
Kenya’s Wesley Korir, meanwhile, is perhaps the most tactically savvy in the field. Now 31, he was the 2012 Boston Marathon winner and sports a best of 2:06:13 from the 2012 Chicago Marathon.
Last year he was elected to the Kenyan parliament, which had eaten up valuable training time. Still, he believes two months of training in North America – he is married to Canadian Tarah McKay-Korir - with little distractions has put him in the form necessary to compete at this level again. And he appears well informed as to his adversaries’ unusual racing frequency.
After a couple of weeks training in Louisville, Kentucky, where he had attended university, he won the Kentucky Derby Festival Half Marathon in 1:03:35; not an exceptional time but an indicator he is rounding into marathon form.
Over dinner on Wednesday night he admitted this was the first time in years he had been able to put in 100-mile weeks of training. Most significantly he might easily be the freshest of the contenders.
Race director Manny Rodrigues will instruct the pacemakers to run 3:00 per kilometre, aiming for a winning time faster than 2:07.
Though the women’s field isn’t quite as deep, it has the makings of a fine head-to-head competition. Ehitu Kiros of Ethiopia, who has a 2:23:39 personal best, and Kenya’s Agnes Kiprop, whose PB is just 15 seconds slower, are even favourites for the $20,000 first place prize money.
But the supporting cast includes Etalemahu Kidane, whose best performance of 2:25:49 came at the 2012 Hamburg Marathon. A couple of less-than-stellar performances might indicate she is due for a good run.
Paul Gains for the IAAF