The elite fields battled cold weather at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday (18) but the competition was nonetheless worthy of its IAAF Gold Label status.
The outcome of the men’s race was in doubt right up until the final five metres when Ishimael Chemtan of Kenya outsprinted his compatriot Gilbert Kirwa to win with a time of 2:09:00. Kirwa finished one second behind.
The winner of the women’s race, Shure Demise, won comfortably, but the fight for the other podium places was the closest-fought battle of the day.
It was barely above the freezing point when the starter’s pistol sent the field up University Avenue in pursuit of $20,000 winner’s prizes. Running with supreme confidence beyond her teenage years, Demise followed the pacemakers through 30 kilometres along with fellow Ethiopians Fatuma Sado and Atsede Habtamu and Kenya’s course record-holder Sharon Cherop.
The 19-year-old Demise, who ran a world junior best of 2:20:59 in Dubai earlier this year on her debut at the distance, made her move soon after passing 35km in 1:59:23. Within the space of five kilometres, she had gained 16 seconds on Cherop and Sado.
Contesting just her third marathon, Demise went on to win by 39 seconds. Her winning time of 2:23:37 – the fourth-fastest in race history – was commendable on this day and she became the sixth Ethiopian woman to win in the past nine editions.
“I am very happy the race was fantastic,” she said while draped in a ‘space blanket’ for protection from the cold. “I trained very well in preparation for this race. It is my first time in Canada so I am very happy.
“After 25km I was confident I would win the race. I never saw anybody. The weather was very cold. I wanted only to win and not worry about a fast race.”
She would later admit that during the Dubai race she didn’t know enough to drink water because she had never taken it in training. Today she drank at most of the water stations.
There was a little controversy for the second and third place positions as Cherop and Sado arrived at the finish at exactly the same time. They collided and Cherop was originally given second place in 2:24:16, but after careful and lengthy review, officials decided to award both second place. They will both receive $12,000 rather than a share of the second-place and third-place prize money.
Chemtan leads Kenyan sweep
At the start of the men’s race, a seven-man group followed the pacemakers who had been instructed to run 3:01 kilometres as long as possible, aiming for 2:07:15 time.
Ishimael Chemtan and Gilbert Kirwa were tucked in nicely alongside defending champion Laban Korir as the pack reached half way in 1:03:44. But over the next 10 kilometres the pace proved too much for the leaders, and with the cold wind coming off Lake Ontario beginning to pick up, the conditions deteriorated.
Korir suffered a stitch at 35km and he backed off, leaving Chemtan and Kirwa to battle it out. As they approached the finish line it was Chemtan who proved stronger, but only just. He crossed the line in 2:09:00 to achieve his fourth career win at the distance.
“This morning I am very happy that I am the winner,” said Chemtan who was third in the 2014 Ottawa Marathon on his first visit to Canada. “Today the weather was good, so I am very happy. With one kilometre to go, I pushed.”
The affable Kirwa was not disappointed to lose the race, crossing the line in 2:09:01. Three times he has beaten the 2:07 mark with his fastest time being 2:06:14. And when Chemtan asked him for a favour, he graciously agreed to serve as translator for the winner at the post race press conference.
“I was very confident that I could win the race but maybe the other guy has prepared himself very well,” said Kirwa. “We used to train together a long time ago so he knows me very well and I know him very well.
“I was thinking that he could out-kick me. I am not good at sprinting and I was coming from an injury so I was fearing to sprint. It was a groin strain injury.”
Korir held on for the third-place finish in 2:09:20 with Robert Chemosin finishing in 2:09:38 to ensure the first four places were filled by Kenyans.
Gillis and Marchant take national titles
Besides being an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was also the Canadian Championships this year.
Eric Gillis and Lanni Marchant both successfully achieved their primary goals of earning Olympic qualifying standards with Gillis running 2:11:31 for seventh place in the men’s race and Marchant, missing her Canadian record by nine seconds with a 2:28:09 clocking, her second fastest ever.
For Gillis the result makes it likely he will be one of only four Canadian distance runners to ever run in three Olympic Games. He ran the marathon in London three years ago and the 10,000m in Beijing. Marchant, meanwhile, has the luxury of having qualifying standards in both the 10,000m and marathon.
“I tried to go for my record and I was good until about 30km,” said Marchant. “Then, like typical me, the left calf went and I was running on borrowed time at that point.
“It was the Rio standard that was the ultimate goal and if I got the record that was going to be icing on the cake. I came pretty close. I came around the bend and thought 'you gotta be kidding me’ but I am well under the Olympic standard and that’s a good place to be.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF