If there was any doubt about Gelete Burka’s conversion to marathon running it was removed on Sunday (27) as the 32-year-old Ethiopian set a Canadian All Comers’ marathon record of 2:22:17 to win the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon by almost four minutes.
Her superb victory on an overcast breezy day was earned despite suffering stomach cramps in the final 12 kilometres which at one point provided incentive to her compatriot, Hiwot Gebrekidan to attempt a break. But the highly experienced Burka brushed off the pain to earn her first marathon victory.
Though she finished 6th in Dubai in 2:20:45 earlier this year, winning this IAAF Gold Label road race on a less than flat course is certainly a far greater achievement.
Along with the CAD$ 40,000 first place prize Burka will receive an additional $10,000 for the new course record.
Gebrekidan, second a year ago here, duplicated that place finishing in 2:26:11 with Sara Hall of the US recording a big personal best of 2:26:20 to claim third place. Hall has an uncanny ability to finish on the podium at major marathons as she was second in the 2015 Chicago and third in the 2016 New York marathons.
Burka was all smiles as she was wrapped in an Ethiopian flag by members of the Ethiopian Embassy staff here.
“The wind was so very difficult,” she revealed, still smiling. “It was not good conditions to get a good time. If there had not been the wind it would have been a good time.
“The pace was so very good early and after 30km Gebkrekidan and myself went hard with 12k to go. The first time I pushed I felt something in my stomach and I massaged my stomach. It was painful but then it got better and I was able to push the last 8km alone.”
With world and Olympic medals at distances from 1,500m to 10,000m she proved today that she can certainly be a contender at major marathon events worldwide.
“I am happy to be the winner here,” Burka declared. “There are good athletes in the marathon, Tirunesh Dibaba, the Kenyan athletes, and Mare Dibaba and I am looking to be amongst the top ten. I am looking for myself to the future to run good marathons for Ethiopia and in the Olympics I am thinking gold.”
For her part Gebrikidan was pleased with her 2:26:11 time. That’s four minutes faster than she ran here in 2017 and her second best time ever.
“I am really pleased with this year’s performance because I had only a little time to prepare for the race,” the 23 year old said, adding, “I saw Burka had problems and I tried but I couldn’t get away.”
Patience pays for Tsegay
Despite the early retirement of last year’s champion, Eliud Kiptanui, due to a hamstring cramp, the men’s race proved as exciting as the women’s.
The course record holder at 2:06:54 Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia returned to Ottawa after four years in which he finished second in Boston, second at the 2015 World Championships then won Fukuoka in December 2016. Since then he had largely been forgotten..
Winning the race in 2:08:52 after fading to fourth place at one point brought the 33-year-old much joy as he demonstrated by blowing kisses to the finish line spectators.
The leading men requested a 2:07 pace and when the three pacemakers took the pack through the half way point in 1:03:47 everything appeared to be going smoothly. But the wind caused havoc. One by one the contenders dropped off.
John Korir, the younger brother of 2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir, seized control of the race at 38 kilometres opening up a gap of some fifty metres at one point. On his racing singlet he wore the bible reference Philippians 4:13, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength”.
The Ethiopian though is an experienced marathoner and despite stomach pains he battled back. Korir, who lives in Cherangany with his brother and who was making his marathon debut, gave a solid effort to claim second place in 2:09:14.
Ethiopia’s Adugna Takele was third in 2:09:26.
The winner was besieged by Ethiopian fans and excused himself past the finish line long enough to vomit. Shortly afterwards the smile returned and he was a delightful presence in the media area.
“I am happy to win again,” he admitted. “Last year I was injured after the world championships in London. After that for six or seven months I stayed injured. Then once my injury was finished I prepared for the Ottawa marathon because I was here in 2014.
“Until after 30k I had a little stomach problem. The two Kenyans made a gap and I thought, ‘I must keep my pace and go for the win because this is the marathon, I have 12 kilometres more maybe they will slow the pace down.’ I thought if I can keep my pace then maybe I can win.”
Tsegay will collect $40,000 for his win, a sum he says will be saved for future business plans.
“I want to focus on my running now,” he explained. “I have ideas for business later.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF