January 15th. It’s a very snowy, cold, wintry day in Toronto, and it’s good we can turn our thoughts to Mumbai, warmer climes, some old friends, and maybe some new stars.
Tomorrow is Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon day, and although it’s 12,500 kilometres away, there are close ties between our 2 marathons [Mumbai and STWM], some old friends to cheer on, as well as some new faces to watch for. Besides being friends with race organiser Vivek Singh, we share Ian Ladbrooke, who helps put the elite fields together for both races. Another old friend, AIMS Secretary Hugh Jones [London Marathon winner in 1982 in 2:09:24], is the actual Race Director in Mumbai.
With such connections, especially Ian, there’s been quite a pipeline between Mumbai and Toronto Waterfront, and tomorrow’s race in Bollywood is no exception. Tomorrow’s favourites are non other than John Kelai and Merima Mohammed. John has a special place in STWM’s history — many of you will remember his dramatic come-from-behind victory over fellow-Kenyan Daniel Rono at STWM 2007. John passed Daniel in a dramatic sprint along Wellington Street, just 200m from the finish line. His 2:09:30 time was a new Canadian All-comers record [fastest marathon on Canadian soil], and eclipsed the 31-year old mark of East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski, that had stood since the 1976 Montreal Olympics. John took home not just the $$, but also a special “Runner” sculpture produced by Canadian artist and CRS Head Photographer, Inge Johnson, for anyone who could break that old, old record. And I have to confess, that we’d had a spirited, very friendly rivalry with the Ottawa Marathon gang to see which race would be first to claim the new record!
John loves India — perhaps even more than T.O. — as he has already won twice in Mumbai, and of course he is the reigning Commonwealth Games Champion, taking that title in Delhi last year. ”I love Mumbai,” says Kelai. “In Mumbai, virtually the whole city turns up to cheer the runners on.” He’s hoping for the hat-trick of titles tomorrow — something he was denied in 2009 (when he came in 3rd), by none other than STWMs3-peat reigning champ and Canadian All-comers record holder [2:07:58], Kenneth Mungara! (see highlights video)
Women’s favourites tomorrow are Merima Mohammed and Koren Yal– both STWM2010 alumni — as well as defending champ Bizunesh Mohammed. Heralded as one of Ethiopia’s best, young, up-and-coming superstars, Merima[only 19 years old] ran a superb 2:23:06 in Toronto last September, only to come home 3rd after a thrilling duel with Tirfi Beyene Tsegaye and Kenya’s Sharon Cherop who fought to the line in 2:22:43 and 2:22:44. Together, they had the 6th, 7th, and 8th fastest times in the WORLD last year! After a reckless, disappointing 2:33:48 in Boston last Spring, Koren Yal had a huge breakthrough at Toronto Waterfront, hanging onto the top 3 until the final stages, to come home 4th in 2:24:33 — a huge 4-minute PR for the 23-year old. And it’s her birthday on Tuesday, so who knows what rewards are in store? (Watch Merima and Koren, and re-live the thrilling STWM 2010 women’s race in Highlights video).
Other friends and familiar faces on the start line in Mumbai tomorrow are Ethiopia’s Tariku Jufar and Haile Kebebush; and Kenya’s Denis Ndiso, Rose Kosgei and Irene Mogaka. Kelai and Jufar are old adversaries, having battled each other in both Mumbai and STWM in 2008. Denis Ndiso won Mumbai 2010, but didn’t have a good day at STWM in September, fading badly to a 14th place finish in 2:15:03. Haile Kebebush was 3rd woman at STWM08 and Mumbai champion in 2009 and runner-up in 2010; Irene Mogaka was 6th (2:38) at STWM08, 3rd at Mumbai 2010; and Rose Kosgei made a solid marathon debut at STWM 2010 of 2:30:52 (8th), on the heels of back to back 69 minute victories at the Prague Half. Can she make a big move up tomorrow?
As much as we’ll be following old friends tomorrow, we’ll also be watching for new talent for STWM 2011 on October 16th. How will Shami Mbarek fare in his comeback? Who is Helalia Jhannes of Namibia [a 71 minute half marathoner on debut]? Will Ukraine’s Katerina Stetsenko have another breakthrough on the heels of her 2:27 in Dublin last October?
One thing’s for sure. It will be warmer in Mumbai tomorrow than Toronto. I’m looking out of the window as the snow falls over a windswept, icy, bleak-looking Toronto Harbour. Thinking warm thoughts. It won’t be a super-fast race: 2:12 and 2:30 will be good times in India tomorrow. But there should be good racing, and something to warm and motivate us in the grips of winter here! “Feel the Spirit”(video) of Mumbai! Watch for results and a race report on IAAF.org tomorrow. With Mumbai 11.5 hours ahead of us, it should be posted to cheer us when we get up. Good luck to all in Bollywood!