Despite frigid cold temperatures and a biting northwest wind that proved an impediment to many competitors, the 2018 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon yielded a new course record as Bahrain’s Mimi Belete claimed victory in 2:22:29.
Her victory in this IAAF Gold Label Road Race certainly didn’t come without a tough battle mostly from the defending champion, Ethiopian Marta Megra who finished in 2:22:35 and Kenya’s Ruth Chebotek who claimed third place, clocking 2:23:29.
The first four - Australia’s two-time Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jess Trengove ran 2:25:59 for fourth - all achieved personal best times in a surprising turn of events.
“I knew in the last few kilometres I had to push hard,” said Belete, who was all smiles at the finish. “I thought I would see what happens.
“Because of the training I had done - I had done good training - I knew they were strong but I was stronger today.”
Belete, Megra and Chebotek ran together behind a trio of pacemakers through the half in 1:10:35 with the favoured Amane Beriso also in tow. They had targeted the course record of 2:22:43 held jointly by Ethiopia’s Koren Yal and Kenyan Sharon Cherop.
But Beriso was the first to drop off the pace as the course turned towards home with eight kilometres remaining. Once the pacemakers had dropped out Belete pressed on opening a slight gap over Megra and the Kenyan Chebotek.
Belete, who had suffered hamstring issues during her marathon debut in Hamburg earlier this year, turned up confident in her fitness but still unsure for her ability at the classic distance. With personal best 1500m/5000m times of 4:00.08/14:54.71 she had made the decision to commit to the marathon only when joining Coach Getaneh Tessema’s training group in Ethiopia. She inched away from Megra to take the CDN $30,000 first place prize by six seconds and an additional $40,000 bonus for the course record.
“I prepared well for this race and actually the hamstring problem does exist today a little bit but it’s a good day for me,” Belete said with a smile.
Megra confirmed she had prepared better for Toronto than for her Paris performance when she ran her previous personal best of 2:24:08 but couldn’t explain why the athletes were able to perform in the cold.
Convincing victory for Kipruto
In the men’s race, three pacemakers took the elite group through half way in 1:03:18, almost exactly to what had been discussed during the pre-race technical meeting. The Kenyans Felix Kandie, John Korir, Benson Kipruto together with New Zealand’s Jake Robertson and Tanzania’s Augustino Sulle made up the pack.
Missing from the front were two pre-race favourites: 2012 Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda and two-time defending champion Philemon Rono of Kenya were nowhere to be seen. The Ugandan would later reveal he felt the cold while standing on the start line while Rono suffered a calf cramp.
By 35 kilometres Robertson was dropped and so too was Kandie. Then, with a look over his shoulder Kipruto went to work. He won the race in 2:07:24 with Sulle setting a Tanzanian national record with 2:07:46 in second. Kandie came across the line third in 2:08:30.
“I trained very well in Kenya and I was prepared,” Kipruto declared. “I knew it was a very strong field with Philemon Rono and also Stephen Kiprotich from Uganda and also Jake Robertson; he is a strong guy. I knew I had a strong field (to face).
“I am satisfied with the time because today was a terrible time, very cold. I thought at 38km that I would win the race. I tried to push there and I did. After winning this race I know my name will be lifted up and now prepared to go to major races.”
Levins breaks long-standing Canadian national record
The most uplifting performance from a Canadian perspective was the shattering of Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old national record (2:10:09) by Cam Levins.
The native of Black Creek, British Columbia, reunited with his Southern Utah University coach last year and planned to resurrect his career. He stuck to his planned pace to run 2:09:25, claim a $43,000 bonus - $1,000 for every year the record has stood - to finish fourth. In the process he passed Robertson who finished 5th in 2:09:52 and Kiprotich who took seventh in 2:11:06.
“Entering the last 10k I was thinking, ‘I will take back my career’,” Levins said, referring to the many people who had written him off since leaving the Nike Oregon Project. “And it was huge motivation.
“I knew I could do it entering the race, It’s a new experience running the marathon. But as I was going along I was feeling great and when I was coming closer to the end I was thinking I have to do this (Canadian Record). I have come too far.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF