Two-time Canadian Olympian, Eric Gillis, will have his hands full Saturday as he faces a strong East African contingent in the 10km - excellent preparation for the London Olympic Marathon. The past two years he has placed fourth in this event.
Hot 10k line-up assembled
Among this year’s contenders is Ethiopia’s Tadese Tola, who recorded a personal best of 2:05:10 in the Dubai Marathon back in January, which wasn’t quite good enough to earn him a place on his country’s Olympic team.
The reigning Boston Marathon champion, Wesley Korir is entered and so too is Morocco’s Mohamed El Hachimi, who ran 28:12 in Ottawa two years ago earning second place. The Moroccan also has a personal best 10,000m of 27:34.29 which he recorded before focusing on the roads. Then there’s Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya.
Mutai, winner of both the Boston and New York Marathons last year, was not selected for Kenya’s Olympic team after pulling out of this year’s heat affected Boston race. Despite the unusual amount of rainfall in Kapng’etuny (8,200 ft elevation) where he does the majority of his training, he says he is in great shape and mentally prepared to race.
"It was disappointing (not to be selected for London 2012) because normally you run a fast time and you race well and you are selected," Mutai says. "But now I cannot say anything because they have named the team.
"My training is going well and for now I will race shorter road races. When I come there I will see how I can do."
Mutai recently won the Kenyan Police Championships 10,000m in 28:23. Two years ago he ran a personal best time of 27:27.59 in the thin air of Nairobi indicating he is more than a handful for the world’s best track racers. His addition to the field was a major coup for elite athlete coordinator Manny Rodrigues.
"I approached his agent (Gerard Vandeveen) after he had not been selected for Kenya’s Olympic team and asked if he wanted to come," Rodrigues reveals. "I figured his schedule would open up. I put the offer out there it took about two weeks before I got a reply. I was quite happy to say the least."
For Gillis this is an opportunity to break up his Marathon training by racing a shorter distance although he has no plans to drop his training volume this week. He is not surprised at the calibre of racers who will line up Saturday night.
"I know Manny is capable of bringing good guys in," Gillis also a 2008 Olympian over 10,000m explains. "I think with Deriba Merga going after the World record a few years ago that got the buzz around so I am not surprised that guys see this as a chance to run a fast road time. It’s good to see this kind of competition in Canada. There’s really no other 10km like it in Canada."
Rodrigues says the event record - the course deviates slightly from previous years due to road construction so organisers are reluctant to call it a course record - of 27:24 set by Merga could be in jeopardy. The winner receives $6,000 with a $2,000 bonus on the line for a course record.
A further $4,000 is on offer for a 'gender challenge’. The women’s elite field will receive a 4:05 head start. The first to finish, male or female, collects the bonus.
Course record assaults? - Marathon
Ethiopian Teyba Erkesso, 29, headlines the women’s marathon field. The 2010 Boston winner has a best of 2:23:53 set in winning the 2010 Houston Marathon and the Ottawa organisers are hopeful she can beat the event record of 2:27:41 held by Moroccan Asmae Leghazoui. According to her manager she is fully recovered from an injury that inhibited training earlier this year.
Up until Wednesday of this week there had been tension surrounding her passport. It had gone missing somewhere between the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, where it had been sent for a Canadian visa, and her home in Addis Ababa. Fortunately, it surfaced in time for her to join her fellow Ethiopians on the flight to Ottawa.
She will face compatriot Yeshi Esayias, 26, who ran a personal best of 2:26:00 in Tokyo on February 26th. Esayias has experience on the streets of Ottawa having finished 3rd here in 2007.
The men’s race should boil down to a battle between Kenya’s mighty trio of Moses Kigen, who ran 2:07:45 for 12th in February’s Dubai Marathon, defending Ottawa champion Laban Moiben (2:10:17) and Julius Karinga. The latter went out hard in Dubai, reaching the halfway point in 1:02:22 before slowing to a 2:08:01 personal best.
Again, Rodrigues has high hopes that Arata Fujiwara’s record of 2:09:34 will fall. The Japanese star set it two years ago but improved his personal best to 2:07:48 at this year’s Tokyo marathon. He will represent his country at the London Olympics and will therefore not be defending his title here.
Paul Gains for the IAAF