Aberu Mekuria wins the Ottawa Marathon (© Victah Sailer)
Ottawa enjoys a reputation as one of only two cities to have two IAAF Gold Label Road Races – Lisbon is the other – with the Ottawa 10k set for Saturday evening (28) followed by the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon early Sunday morning (29).
This distinction has encouraged some of the world’s best distance runners to the Canadian capital once again.
“I think we have a really solid field. I am hoping if the weather helps that we can actually take a crack at the records,” said race director Manny Rodrigues. “But if the weather doesn’t we will (still) have a really good race.
“We have been building our reputation and the fact we have a Gold Label certainly has helped and continues to help and solidified that the reputation is valid.
“For example, this year we have a lot of returnees from previous years. Most of the returning champions were supposed to come but ended up scratching because of injuries. We have had a lot of returnees which goes to show they like the course and they like the event.”
Recently crowned world half marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir, of Kenya, leads a strong women’s field in the 10k and will have an eye on her compatriot Gladys Cherono’s course record of 30:56 which was set a year ago, when Jepchirchir was second in that race.
Jepchirchir’s success in Cardiff no doubt will give her confidence during her expected duel with such strong athletes as Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska.
Daska was the winner of the 2015 Great Ethiopian Run the prestigious 10km event which has grown into one of Africa’s largest road races with 40,000 participants. With a personal best of 31:04 she will provide a strong challenge to Jepchirchir.
The race doubles as the Canadian championship and the nation’s two top female distance runners, Lanni Marchant and Natasha Wodak, return after finishing third and fourth a year ago.
Both have qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games 10,000m while Marchant has the marathon standard also.
Can Cheprot attack the course record?
The men’s 10k field is also packed with strong contenders.
On the strength of his sixth-place finish in Cardiff, Kenya’s Simon Cheprot will be the favourite on many people’s scorecards. Cheprot has a personal best of 27:41 but what is most impressive is that he passed the 10km mark in Cardiff at 28:00.
He also had a good win at the Okpekpe International 10km in Nigeria, another IAAF Label Road Race, and in very testing conditions, earlier this month.
Potential challengers to Cheprot include fellow Kenyan John Lotiang and Ethiopia’s Yitayal Atnafu.
The latter has a personal best 10,000m of 27:50.70 set in Hengelo last year. More recently he ran 2:08:53 in the Paris Marathon.
The Ottawa 10k men’s course record of 27:24 has stood since 2009 when Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga entered the record books.
Defending Ottawa Marathon champion Abeba Mekuria (2:25:30) returns after her surprise victory a year ago but she will not have an easy time of retaining her title.
Her compatriot Koren Jelela is co-holder of the Canadian all-comers’ record at 2:22:43, set in 2011. After having time off to have a baby she finished third at the 2015 Frankfurt Marathon in 2:23:52.
Ochichi now a road warrior
Another who could burst into the spotlight in Ottawa is Isabella Ochichi.
Despite her modest personal best of 2:29:45, set in Honolulu last year, she has been to the highest echelons of sport having claimed the 2004 Olympic 5000m silver medal.
After winning the Commonwealth 5000m title in 2006 a series of injuries and the birth of her son saw her put her career on hold but now, at 36 years of age, she is looking to make an impression on the roads.
Asked how she might fare on Sunday, the 2015 Cape Town Marathon winner replied with a smile, “You shall see on Sunday.”
The men’s race features several East African runners who could triumph.
Dino Sefir celebrates his 28th birthday on Saturday and would like nothing better than to get a slightly delayed birthday present.
He was third in Ottawa five years ago but improved his personal best to 2:04:50 at Dubai in 2012.
Sefir will be up against fellow Ethiopian Megersa Bacha, who has a best of 2:06:56 from the 2013 Paris Marathon.
Kenyan hopes are concentrated on Evans Ruto (best of 2:07:49) and Felix Kipkemboi Keny (2:07:14).
The course record of 2:06:54 was set by Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay in 2014.
The race organisers and athletes will decide at Saturday morning’s technical meeting how fast they would like pacemakers to go but with thunderstorms and hot, humid, temperatures forecast their hesitance might be wise.
Paul Gains for the IAAF