Kenya’s Laban Korir lines up in defence of his Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon title this Sunday (18) knowing that all eyes will be upon him in the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
A year ago he overhauled his compatriot, Peter Some, at roughly 30 kilometres and went on to a surprising victory in 2:08:15. There most likely won’t be a surprise this time, at least not from the 29-year-old Kenyan; the strong field assembled for this year’s race will watch him more closely.
“It’s not a lot of pressure,” said Korir, who earlier this year showed his form with a 2:07:54 clocking in Paris. “I am ready. I know that the field is so strong so I trained very well. I know to win is easy but to defend is not an easy job. I trained very well. I think my shape is better than early in the season in Paris.”
Deressa Chimsa of Ethiopia set the course record of 2:07:05 two years ago and was originally scheduled to take on Korir this time but he became ill a few weeks ago and was forced to withdraw.
Nevertheless, Korir faces a strong challenge from Some, who clocked 2:05:38 to win in Paris two years ago and vows to run less aggressively early on, and from Michael Kipyego the steeplechaser-turned-marathon runner.
The latter, a 32-year-old Kenyan, has a best of 2:06:48 from the 2011 Eindhoven marathon and ran 2:06:58 in Tokyo in both 2014 and 2013.
Leading the Ethiopian contingent in Chimsa’s absence is 23-year-old Belay Assefa, who ran 2:07:10 a year ago in Hamburg. If there is a surprise then perhaps it will be the youngster who provides it.
It could be as cold as 2C at the start of Sunday’s race, but Korir seemed nonplussed with the potentially cold conditions that are predicted. And he was given a positive send-off by his training partner Eliud Kipchoge, winner of the recent Berlin Marathon.
“I think the weather is no problem because I am not the only one to conquer the cold weather,” said Korir. “If it is cold or not, I am capable of winning. When I was leaving, I talked with Eliud and he told me ‘you are ready, now go and defend the title’.”
The women’s race is just as appealing with course record-holder Sharon Cherop returning to Toronto for the first time since that day in 2010 when she recorded 2:22:43.
It was a turning point in her career as the following year she was selected for Kenya’s 2011 IAAF World Championships team, earning a bronze medal in the marathon. A victory in Boston in 2012 was another major step upward.
Cherop is 31 now and the mother of six-year-old Natalia. Her chief rival this weekend will be the Ethiopian teen sensation Shure Demise who ran 2:20:59 in her debut. That result is a world junior best – the IAAF does not keep junior records for this distance – and was achieved in Dubai this past January.
Another returning champion is Mary Davies of New Zealand, the 2012 Toronto winner. She returns looking to achieve the Olympic qualifying standard.
Cherop is accompanied in Toronto by her husband, Matthew Bowen, who ran 2:10:57 at the 2013 Reims Marathon. While he expects to chase a decent time, Cherop has designs on winning the CDN$20,000 first place prize money.
“I am very happy to come back to Toronto because this is where my career began,” said Cherop. “After I won this race, I had the chance to run so many big races like the World Championships, like Boston, like Berlin.
“I heard the weather is going to be too cold to run fast,” she added. “Sometimes a fast time depends on the weather. I am going to try to win the race. It is going to be stiff competition with the Ethiopian (Shure Demise), she is strong also. She has run a faster time than me. But I am going to try my best.”
This year’s event will also serve as the Canadian Championships. Olympian Eric Gillis, who has run his four fastest times on this course, is looking for the Olympic standard. His current personal best of 2:11:21 was achieved a year ago at the age of 34.
Lanni Marchant broke the 28-year-old Canadian women’s record with 2:28:00 here two years ago and needs to get under 2:29:50 to book a place on the Canadian Olympic team.
“I love that I have the Canadian record, but I do not expect it to stand nearly as long as Sylvia (Ruegger’s) unless I find it in me to knock it down a great bit,” said Marchant. “The talent pool is getting deep in Canadian women's marathon running.”
Marchant’s prime Canadian rival, Krista DuChene, will not start this year’s race, having stepped on a stone and fracturing a bone in her foot. The 35-year-old has the Olympic standard already but will be in Toronto alongside Tim Hutchings and Michael Doyle providing commentary of the livestream.
Paul Gains for the IAAF