Philemon Rono successfully defended his Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon title on Sunday (22) while giving organisers of this IAAF Gold Label road race something they had coveted for the past three years: a Canadian all-comers’ record.
The diminutive Kenyan crossed the finish line in 2:06:52, a two-second improvement on the record set by Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay three years ago in Ottawa. In addition to the $25,000 first place prize money, Rono will return to his training base in Kaptagat with CDN$50,000 for the record.
With temperatures about 11C at the start and a slight breeze coming in off Lake Ontario, the pace was furious from the beginning – 29:29 at 10 kilometres and then 1:02:35 at the halfway point. Three assigned pacemakers were charged with the responsibility of delivering the favoured athletes to at least the course record (formerly held by Ethiopia’s Derissa Chimsa at 2:07:05), but after 25 kilometres the pacemakers were all gone. Shortly after this point, Dickson Chumba, the 2015 Chicago and 2014 Tokyo champion, went to the front with only Rono for company.
To many observers it looked as though Chumba was running according to form and his compatriot might be in trouble. But by 30 kilometres Rono surged and opened up a gap which grew to a winning margin of more than two minutes by the finish. Indeed, a visibly disappointed Chumba stopped the clock at 2:09:11. His mood was in stark contrast to that of the winner.
“The first thing I came here for was to defend,” a smiling Rono said afterwards. “I was expecting the time will come automatically. Today the time came because I was pushing with Chumba. When I went in front, I said, ‘I will not reduce the pace and let me maintain my constant pace’.
“When I passed the remaining metres, I could see I was running at 2:06 (pace) so I was very happy because I had run faster than my personal best and the course record. I was not worried (about Chumba) because when I started running hard I said there is no need to look back. Just focus and when you focus you know you what you will achieve at the end.
“There will be a celebration because this is an achievement. When you get an achievement you celebrate. I will celebrate when I arrive at home with the team.”
Chumba, who ran 2:06:25 in Tokyo earlier this year, complained of a tight hamstring.
“From 30 kilometres on, I had a hurt hamstring,” he said. “The race is not easy. From 10k to 21k is easy; from 25 to 40 km it is not easy. The course is very difficult. Rono knows the roads and he was telling me about last year and how he knows the course.”
Solomon Deksisa of Ethiopia finished third in 2:11:27.
If the men were ambitious in their early pace, the women’s race was insanely quick with Ethiopians Fatuma Sado, Sutume Asefa and Marta Megra Lema duelling with Kenya’s Angela Tanui in the early stages.
Asefa and Lema train together in Gemedu Dedefo’s group and chatted occasionally and shared a water bottle at one point. Hitting half way in 1:11:01 caused what one observer deemed ‘carnage’. One by one they dropped off the pace, leaving Lema alone at the front from 32 kilometres onwards.
Struggling less than the others, she maintained her form with the help of her pacemaker to win the race in 2:28:20, far off the personal best of 2:24:32 she set in Xiamen, China last year. Afterwards she said she had experienced stomach pains in the latter part of the race. Asefa finished in 2:29:26 to claim the second place prize money of CDN$15,000 with Ruth Jebet of Kenya moving through the field to take third in 2:30:02.
“The first part is very easy,” Lema said of the course, “but the second part is very challenging, especially after 30 kilometres. I had sickness problem after 30km. I felt pain, real pain.
“I am very happy to win Toronto the first time I came here. I am happy, but my plan was to run under 2:23 and I did not succeed, so I am upset about the time.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF