Morocco was celebrating a double victory at the Ottawa 10km race with El Hassan El Abassi and Malika Asahssah triumphing in this IAAF Silver Label Road Race in cold and windy conditions on Saturday night (25).
Geoffrey Mutai decided that his best chance to defend the title he won in 2012 was to take on the pace himself and go hard from the start and the 31-year-old Kenyan, who was the 2012 AIMS Athlete of the Year having won the 2012 Boston, 2012 Berlin Marathons boldly led with little regard for the outcome.
He passed the halfway mark in 13:52, with four rivals in tow but was unable to drop El Abassi and Ethiopia’s Adugna Tekele Bikila.
In sight of the finish line, coming up on the Canadian city’s Queen Elizabeth Driveway, the unheralded El Abassi sprinted away from Mutai and Bikila to win in 27:37.
Bikila proved his world leading time of 27:30, which he ran in France in March, was no fluke as he finished a stride behind in 27:38 with Mutai one second further back in third place. It is no overstatement to say that, considering the weather conditions, the performances were magnificent.
“It was my personal best today so of course I am happy,” commented El Abassi. “I was proud to run with those big names like Mutai.
“Mutai was leading the whole way until the last two hundred metres. To be honest, all us were running in a group. It wasn’t my plan just to follow Mutai. I was preparing for one month for this race and my goal was just to finish in the top three. I have run all over the world but this was my first time in Canada, and today was my best race.”
Despite losing the race in a sprint, Mutai seemed happy with his performance. It was just five weeks after he had been forced to drop out of the London Marathon with an injury to his right hip.
Mutai on the mend
“I am happy although I didn’t win. I am happy with how I ran,” said Mutai, with a huge grin.
“I was coming back from injury and I did all the (pace making) job. My colleagues let me do the job and I didn’t have the finish, but I am happy because I know I was having an injury and I was testing myself.
“Even after London I didn’t do enough training. I didn’t do a lot of speed work so I am happy with the performance. If I had my colleague (Charles Kimeli) who was going to pace for me to 5km I think it might have been different, because my colleagues were waiting for me behind me.”
Mutai’s training partner Kimeli was due to help with the early pace but suffered a mix up with flights and was not on the start line. Race director Manny Rodrigues immediately found him another pace making job for Sunday’s Ottawa Marathon.
Mutai admitted the course record of 27:24, which has been held since 2009 by Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga, had been his target leading up to the race.
Ottawa has a unique bonus on offer. The elite women were given a four minute head start and USD $4000 was offered to the first person - male of female - to cross the finish line. El Abassi collected the bonus despite his compatriot Asahssah recording a huge personal best to win in 31:46.
Asahssah followed the front running of Ethiopia’s Firehiwot Dado and, after the pair broke away from the field, and then applied the pressure some three kilometres from home before out-kicking her
“I was not expecting to win today because there was a lot of wind and it was a very strong field.
I looked at the biographies of the elite field and I knew it would be a fast race. I knew it would be under 32 minutes,” said the winner, after slicing 29 seconds from her previous best which dated back to 2004.
This was Asahssah’s second visit to Ottawa, 12 years ago she competed for Morocco at the 2001 Francophonie Games and finished fifth in the 5000m.
Coached by her husband she has been living in Guadalajara, Spain, for the past three years but goes back to Morocco for high altitude training.
Dado was pleased with her personal best time of 31:49 for second while New Zealand’s Mary Davies, a long-time Ottawa resident, claimed third in 32:09.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF