TORONTO. March 17th. Organizers have confirmed that Simon Bairu will compete in this year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday, October 16th. The addition of Bairu to the Start List sets the stage for what will arguably be the best-ever Canadian race over the classic 42.195km distance. He will join Reid Coolsaet, Eric Gillis and Rob Watson from Guelph’s Speed River Club, and Kingston’s Dylan Wykes, who is currently training with Richard Lee’s Lower Mainland Group in Vancouver. Coolsaet, Gillis, Wykes and Watson are currently ranked #1, #2, #3 and #4 in the Marathon in Canada. Bairu set an impressive new Canadian 10,000m record of 27:23 last May, before dropping out of his much-anticipated marathon debut in New York City in November.
Combined, the five athletes arguably represent the best group of men’s marathoners that Canada has ever had — an certainly combined on the same starting line. When Coolsaet ran 2:11:23 at last year’s Toronto Waterfront, it was the fastest marathon ever run by a Canadian on Canadian soil, and the fastest marathon by a Canadian in 24 years. It also gave him an Olympic qualifying standard for London 2012, with a sub-2:11:30. Gillis narrowly missed the challenging Athletics’ Canada standard, running 2:12:08 at STWM 2010, one place behind Coolsaet. Two months later, Wykes had a major breakthrough, taking his previous marathon best of 2:15:16 down to 2:12:39 in winning the California International Marathon in Sacramento. Watson made his debut at the Houston Marathon in January in a disappointing 2:16:17 after passing halfway in 65:28. As Canadian 10K Road Champion and runner-up at the 2010 National Cross Country, he is favoured to do much better in his second outing. Simon Bairu is considered by some to be the best of the group, following an outstanding career for Canada at shorter distances, capped by his a 13th place finish at the 2010 World Cross Country Championships [the first non-African] in March, and his impressive 10,000m record set on the track at Stanford last May.
The 27 year old son of an Eritrean-born father and an Ethiopian-born mother grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan.He excelled in his collegiate career at Wisconsin, where he won the NCAA Cross Country titles in both 2005 and 2006, before moving [after graduation] with his coach Jerry Schumacher, to Portland, Oregon to train with the Nike group. His training partners include such USA stars as Chris Solinsky, Shalane Flanagan, and Matt Tegenkamp.
His record speaks for itself. In an interview last year, Christopher Kelsall referred to him as “the greatest distance runner in Canadian history.” In addition to the 10,000m record, he has won an unprecedented seven Canadian National Cross Country titles, defeated Ryan Hall to win Rock ‘n Roll Arizona last January, and then ran 62:08 at the Philly Half in September. This is a minute and a half faster than any other Canadian currently running. In December he was named joint winner [with Priscilla Lopes-Schliep] of the Cal D. Bricker Memorial Trophy (for outstanding performance of the year), by Athletics Canada, AND winner of the Fred Begley Memorial Trophy (outstanding athlete of the year in off-track events). The same month, he received a “Golden Shoe Award for 2010” from Canadian Running magazine. “Does his dominance suggest something about the state of Canadian distance running? No it doesn’t,” claimed Kelsall. “He is just that good.”
Bairu’s inclusion in October’s Toronto Waterfront Marathon creates the “perfect race scenario,” said Race Director, Alan Brookes.
“We are delighted to have Simon on the Start Line for STWM,” Brookes added. “Now we’re 5 for 5! What a spectacle it’s going to be, with the best, deepest group of Canadians we’ve ever had, going head-to-head on the streets of Toronto, battling it out for 3 Olympic places and hopefully Jerome Drayton’s 36-year-old national record of 2:10:09. It will be a de facto Olympic Trials. It will be a tremendous spectacle, a huge boost for Canadian marathoning and athletics in general in the country.” Scotiabank has sweetened the pot, adding a $36,000 bonus for the first person to take down Drayton’s long-standing mark – set at Fukuoka in 1975, before any of this Fall’s combatants were born.
For Bairu, the decision to run Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon this Fall,
“ was a no brainer for me. I think Alan [Brookes, Race Director] and his team have really done a great job over the years of building Toronto Waterfront into a world class event. For me personally, I can’t think of a more exciting opportunity than to try and qualify for my first Olympic team on Canadian soil. For Canadian distance running, it’s very exciting to have a race in Toronto where you have 5 guys who all have a shot at making the Olympic team. It’s gonna be a great event and I’m excited to be a part of it. I’ve been racing those guys for some time now. I still remember battling Dylan 10 years ago for the junior XC title in Moncton. When you’ve been racing guys for that long you develop a friendship and respect. I have a lot of respect for what they’ve been able to do in the marathon over the past year and I know they’ll be bringing it on October 16 and I’m gonna work hard to be ready for them. ”
Despite the set-back in New York last Fall, Simon and Coach Schumacher have taken a bold gamble with the marathon. Following his outstanding 10,000m performance last May, the easiest route to London 2012 might have been opting for the 10k. It would have guaranteed funding, major Federation support and an almost automatic ticket to the Games. Instead, they have courageously decided to go for glory in the marathon. According to Simon:
the goal has always been to try and give myself the best opportunity to bring home an Olympic medal. Jerry and I truly believe that opportunity is the marathon. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some setbacks and a learning curve along the way but at the end of the day I have no doubt at all that once I figure the marathon out I’ll be doing some special things.
As to how he hopes to do on Toronto’s Waterfront:
Well for starters I plan on finishing this time! All kidding aside, the goal is to first and foremost make the Olympic team which won’t be an easy task but if I can secure that, I’ll be going after Jerome! I’ve always been very confident in myself and that will never change. I will run sub 2:10. I can’t say if it will be this year, next year or in three years, but eventually I’m gonna figure it out.
Regardless of the outcome, Canadian marathoners can look forward to Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront on October 16th, with an excitement and anticipation not felt in Canadian distance running for many years. Registration is now open for recreational and charity runners at www.stwm.ca
For Simon Bairu’s running bio, see Athletics Canada