Ethiopia’s Aberu Mekuria won the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon on Sunday (24) with the second-fastest time in the history of the IAAF Silver Label Road Race, while compatriot Girmay Birhanu won the men’s race in what was his fourth marathon in seven months.
Mekuria took almost half a minute off her PB to win in 2:25:30. Birhanu’s winning time of 2:08:14 was his third sub-2:09 clocking of the year. It was the third year in a row that Ethiopians had won both races in Ottawa.
The women’s race was an Ethiopian affair with four of the top six places filled by their contingent. The heavily favoured Meselech Melkamu was at the front of a large pack for most of the race but that group whittled down to three by 40km. It was shortly after this point that Mekuria put her foot down and opened a gap, holding it to the finish.
Her winning time of 2:25:30 was within a minute of Tigist Tufa’s 2014 course record of 2:24:31. Kenya’s Rebecca Chesire was second in 2:25:41 and Abebech Afework took third in 2:25:53. Melkamu finished fifth in 2:26:45.
“I wasn’t certain (of winning) but inside me I was very motivated and was feeling like I could win it,” said Mekuria. “If not first, at least be in the top three. And so I went ahead and achieved that. I was surprised with my own result. I was hoping that I would come in the top three.
“All four of us were very strong and we were all thinking which one of us was going to lead. It was challenging,” added Mekuria, who had previously won marathons in Hengshui, Eindhoven and Cologne. “Because of the competition with the others, I would say this is my biggest victory.”
Chesire was delighted with her performance. At this year’s Dubai Marathon she had run her personal best of 2:25:22 and narrowly missed this time today.
“At 41.5km (Mekuria) just pushed then I tried to follow but no I couldn’t,” said the 22-year-old Kenyan. “The last 5km were tough because it was cold and windy. I am happy to be in second place. The time was not bad, 2:25:41 is not bad for May.”
Mekuria had special praise for the dedicated pacemaker who was hired to take the leading women for as long as possible. Dancan Kasia is a Kenyan based in Toronto. He stopped at the two-hour mark, imploring them to push hard to the finish.
“He was very good,” said Mekuria of Kasia’s work. “He was talking to us, he was cheering us, he was motivating us and he did what we asked him to do. So he was a very good pacemaker, even giving us water as well.”
Late surge gives Birhanu the win
There was a pack of eight early on in the men’s race, but with a series of turns coupled with a windy stretch, many began to struggle.
The pack passed the half-way point in 1:03:17 and there were high hopes that Yemane Tsegay’s 2014 course record of 2:06:54 might fall. Indeed, Birhanu seemed intent on not only winning, but taking the record. With a personal best of 2:05:49 from the 2014 Dubai Marathon, he is certainly capable of such a time.
The 28-year-old from Addis surged at 35km to open a gap on Kenyans Philip Kangogo and Alfers Lagat. Though he often glanced over his shoulder and then at his watch, he needn’t have worried. Kangogo was next across the line in a time of 2:09:56, while Lagat faded to sixth in 2:11:28.
It was another Ethiopian, Chala Dechasa, who made his way past those who had been ambitious in the early stages and claimed third place in 2:09:59.
“Up to 35km it was a very good race and after that it became very challenging,” said Birhanu. “And there was wind. I was tracking to see if I could break the course record, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do it this time around. I was looking around because I was afraid that (Kangogo) might catch up, but as the race went on and the gap became wider and wider, I was more confident.
“After 35km I was seeing if I could break the record,” he added. “Still, I have won the race and I am very happy with that. I didn’t get a whole lot of rest. I missed a flight coming here so we arrived very late on Friday.”
Seven weeks ago, Birhanu won the Daegu Marathon in 2:07:26 and in January he was eighth in Dubai, clocking 2:08:56. Last October he won in Beijing in 2:10:42. He has plans to invest his considerable winnings in a business like many of the other leading Ethiopian runners.
“Right now I have a fiancée but we have no kids now,” Birhanu added. “These two athletes Haile Gebrelassie and Kenenisa Bekele have invested a lot and created opportunities in the country to create jobs and I would like to follow in their footsteps and invest in different businesses and create jobs.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF