Toronto, CanadaKenneth Mungara was all smiles as his plane touched down at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport Wednesday. The 38-year-old Kenyan has come prepared to add a fourth consecutive Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon victory to his resume on Sunday (16).
The lengthy flight from Nairobi via Amsterdam will have done nothing to dull his confidence. And, in an event as difficult to predict as the Marathon, Mungara must be considered the favourite for it is a splendid record he has compiled at this IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
A year ago he set a Canadian All-Comers record of 2:07:58 taking this event to another level when he outlasted the finest field ever assembled on Canadian soil. Indeed, three others followed in quick succession including Jafred Chirchir Kipchum who chose Eindhoven over Toronto this year. Chirchir ran 2:05:48 to win that event underscoring Mungara’s tremendous stature.
Mungara may be confident but he is not one to boast.
“Toronto is very hard; got a lot of tough guys there,” he declares. “I want to go 2:07 or under 2:07. If I go there and have a good pacemaker I can run 2:07 or 2:06. My training is very good. I am doing very fine.”
On paper, at least, it is Mungara’s countryman Nixon Machichim who should offer the greatest challenge to the champion’s mission. A year ago he ran 2:08:22 to finish 4th in Toronto and this time he is accompanied by his training partner, Joseph Ngeny (2:08:10 personal best), whose task it will be to tow the leaders through 30km at a favourable pace.
Canadian Olympic berths at stake
While the race at the front will involve a contingent of East African runners there is a ‘race within a race’ this year as four talented Canadians battle each other - and the clock. At stake are three places on Canada’s Olympic team. While the IAAF has set the Olympic qualifying standard at 2:15:00 Athletics Canada wants its athletes to run 2:11:29 or faster.
A year ago Reid Coolsaet ran 2:11:23 in the Toronto event to finish 10th overall. Initially, he believed his time had automatically earned his place on the team but the IAAF Olympic qualifying period only began in January of this year. Athletics Canada has nevertheless accepted the time. Coolsaet need only run the 2:15 standard to earn a place for London 2012.
The only stumbling block would be if three other Canadians beat him and run faster than his 2010 time. If he feels good, and the weather conditions are cooperative, Coolsaet might even take a run at Jerome Drayton’s Canadian record of 2:10:09 which has stood since 1975. Race director Alan Brookes has posted a CDN $36,000 bonus for anyone beating the Canadian record - $1,000 for every year it has existed.
Also staking a claim for Olympic consideration is Coolsaet’s training partner Eric Gillis who ran 2:12:08 last year and has asked for a pacemaker to ensure a 2:11 pace.
Dylan Wykes, winner of the 2010 Sacramento marathon in 2:12:39 is also eyeing the standard on this very flat course. The fact that the California marathon does not meet the criteria for record purposes, having an overall elevation drop of 105m, is neutralised by the fact that Wykes led the entire way.
With the Toronto field containing as many pacemakers as contenders he will have the luxury of being pulled along to a fast time. Most importantly he has another year of training with a new coach under his belt.
Yal and Dibaba top women’s field
While the focus has been on the men’s race the women’s contest has provided surprises in recent years. Sharon Cherop set a course record of 2:22:42 last year then achieved World championship bronze in Daegu in August which prevented her from defending her title.
This year’s race features another impressive field and, in Cherop’s absence, is wide open. Two excellent Ethiopian runners Koren Yal and Mare Dibaba deserve special attention. The former ran 2:24:32 in the 2010 Toronto race - finishing 4th - while Dibaba who holds the Ethiopian national half marathon record (1:07:13), has a best of 2:25:27 from the 2010 Frankfurt marathon.
“I am expecting to run between 2:22 and 2:23 if I have a good pacemaker,” says Dibaba. “I am looking for a good time so I can go to the London Olympics.”
Yal claims to be in better shape than last year and has aspirations of her own design.
“My target will be to run my personal best, under 2:24,” she declares, “but to do it everything depends on the weather conditions and if I have a good pacemaker like last year.”
Russia’s Silviya Skvortsova, 36, who was 2nd in the 2009 Berlin Marathon with a personal best time of 2:26:24, is hoping for a good day and a personal best. The resident of Cheboksary has been piling in as much as 190 kilometres a week in preparation for this race.
The 2011 Toronto Waterfront Marathon sold out for the first time in its history with all 5000 places accounted for well in advance of this weekend. And, with the race date moved back three weeks to allow for a later start time more spectators are expected along the course than in previous years. That can only help these elite athletes.
Paul Gains for the IAAF