Canadian athletics success has often come with a downside. Next
year, for example, Montreal will finally pay off the debt on the 1976
Olympic Games. Then there was the little matter of the big guy who
crossed the line first in the Olympic 100 metres in Seoul 1988. But the
team organising the ING Ottawa Marathon on Sunday are determined that
they are going to be up there with successes like Donovan Bailey and
Mark McKoy and the 1996 sprint squad, all of whom brought back Olympic
Ottawa’s elevated standards in Canadian marathon running has already
earned the cachet of sponsorship from ING, which also sponsors New
York, Amsterdam (where the legendary Haile Gebrselassie competes next
October), and Brussels. But Ottawa race director, John Halvorsen
is determined that Canada’s capital city race is going to make even
more of an impact in the coming years.
Halvorsen, a 27min 43sec 10,000 metres runner 15 years ago, and a
two-time Norwegian Olympian is in his fifth year as race director. “We
see ourselves in a leadership role in Canada as an event with both
elite and mass participation (25,000 for all events this weekend). But
our aim is to put ourselves firmly on the North American scene, then on
the international marathon circuit”.
The first aim is a Canadian all-comers’ record, which dates back to
those Games in Montreal in ‘76, when East German Waldemar Cierpinski
recorded the first of his two Olympic marathon victories, in 2.09..55.
“We’ve got a budget of $250,000 for elite athletes, and $200,000
in prize money, but if anyone can set a new record, there’s also a
Hyundai Tiburon as the reward”.
Defending his title is course record holder, with 2.11.47 from last
year, Elly Rono of Kenya. Rono, 35 is from near Eldoret, in the
heartland of Kenyan distance running success, but has lived mostly in
North Carolina in the last five years. During that time, he has won
over a dozen marathons, with a best of 2.10.57, and placed fourth in
New York in 2003. “The plan is for 64.30 pace at halfway,” says Rono,
“but if I can get anywhere sub-65, I’m confident I can beat 2.09.55”.
His colleague, Joseph Nderitu, who has won the race three times
concedes that Rono is favourite. “I’d just be happy to get pulled
through to 2.09,” says Nderitu, 30.
Women’s race favourite is defending champion, Ludmila Kortchugina, who
also won the race in 2002. Although from Russia, Kortchugina has been
living in Toronto (where she has also won the Toronto Waterfront
Marathon), and hopes to be a Canadian citizen in time for next year’s
Ottawa race. Her best is 2.29.53.
National Capital race Weekend begins with two classy 10k races,
sponsored by MDS Nordion on Saturday evening. Sub-28min men, Gilbert
Koech and Reuben Cheruyiot, both from Kenya should vie for honours,
while defending champion, Aster Demissie of Ethiopia will be
hard-pushed to triumph against in-form Asmae Leghzaoui of Morocco, who
has recently won both the Sallie Mae 10k and the Lilac Bloomsday 12k.