Kenya’s Philemon Rono set a Canadian all-comers’ record of 2:06:52 when he successfully defended his Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon title a year ago. He will return to this IAAF Gold Label race on Sunday (21) in search of what North Americans call the ‘three-peat’ - three consecutive victories.
The 27-year-old knows his quest will prove more difficult as his famed NN Running Team training partner Stephen Kiprotich has accompanied him to Canada’s largest city with victory in mind.
The Ugandan is, of course, the 2012 Olympic and 2013 world marathon champion and is not satisfied with his personal best of 2:06:33, believing it is not on par with his championship performances. The pair have discussed going for a sub-2:06 time which would reward the winner with an additional CDN$50,000. First place is worth CDN$30,000.
“I was speaking with Rono and I asked him what the course is like,” Kiprotich, 29, said. “He said the course is good and nice. I was telling him if we go fast for the first half in 63 minutes, we can push at the end to 2:05. He told me it is possible.”
Much will depend upon the weather conditions. The forecast calls for temperatures of 2C with 23kph winds from the NNW at the 8:45am local start time.
While the NN pair will attract the majority of attention come race day, there is no shortage of contenders willing and perhaps very able to dampen their enthusiasm for victory.
In his marathon debut at Lake Biwa earlier this year, Jake Robertson set a New Zealand marathon record of 2:08:26. Though he finished third, he was disappointed with the result, believing he was capable of a 2:05.
“I would like to win the race, first and foremost,” says Robertson, who eagerly attended a Toronto Raptors NBA game on Wednesday night shortly after arriving in Toronto. “If the pacemaking is set up to run a 2:05 then I would like to run 2:05. If it’s 2:06 pace then I would like to break the course record. I am not putting any limits on time and just see what happens. But yeah, I would like to go away with the course record and the win.”
Another quartet of Kenyans have finely tuned themselves for Toronto, led by Felix Kandie (2:06:03), Benson Kipruto (2:07:11), Augustino Sulle (2:10:01) and John Korir (2:09:14). The latter, still just 21 years of age, made his mark in Ottawa last May finishing second on his debut. He is the younger brother of 2016 Olympian Wesley Korir.
Canadian hopes rest on 29-year-old Cam Levins, who left Alberto Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project a year ago to reunite with his university coach, Eric Houle at Southern Utah University. The former Canadian 10,000m record-holder (27:07.51) is motivated after completing his lengthiest uninterrupted training spell in many years and is determined to prove he can be world class in the marathon.
Scotiabank has put up a $43,000 bonus if he or any other Canadian can beat Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old Canadian record of 2:10:09.
Given the depth of the field, the last-minute withdrawal of Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Mekonnen with a niggling knee injury was a little easier for race director Alan Brookes to stomach.
The women’s field includes defending champion Marta Lema Megra of Ethiopia who set a personal best of 2:24:32 in Xiamen two years ago. She returns with training partner Amane Beriso, who has a personal best of 2:20:48, set in Dubai in 2016.
Beriso ran 2:22:15 in Prague a year ago, adding to her confidence that the Toronto course record of 2:22:43 could fall. Indeed, before Saturday’s technical meeting she has already requested pacemakers to go out at 2:21 pace. Their rivalry will be the focus of the women’s race but each has respect for the other.
“I think with Marta Megra it’s going to be a little difficult but it is possible and I am in it to win it,” Beriso says. “I feel I get better and better each time when I am training. I feel that mentally and physically I am capable of running good times. I feel great about myself and my fitness is better than last year.”
Although Mimi Belete has run only one marathon, the fact the Bahraini runner ran with a nagging hamstring injury when clocking her 2:26:06 in Hamburg earlier this year made her run all the more remarkable.
Belete has impressive credentials on the track – PBs of 4:00.08 for 1500m and 14:54.71 for 5000m – and has put in the distance work.
“For a long time I was training for the short distances and now I want to get a good time in the marathon,” she explains. “I was happy with my performance in Hamburg. I could have run faster but I had a hamstring problem. I want to get my best time in Toronto.”
Two-time Commonwealth bronze medallist Jess Trengove of Australia adds more to the international flavour of this event. Running a personal best of 2:26:31 at the Gold Coast Marathon in July has given her the belief she can run with the leading East Africans.
Paul Gains for the IAAF