MONTREAL. April 29th. In the end, both pre-race favourites – Eric Gillis of Guelph’s Speed River TFC and Kate Bazeley of the Nautilus Club in St. John’s, Newfoundland – triumphed at this morning’s Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal to take the Athletics Canada National Half-marathon Championship titles. But they did so in quite different styles. The London Olympics-bound Gillis was content to spend most of the race sitting back in the pack before outsprinting Athletics Toronto’s Matt Loiselle over the final 800m for the victory, 64:38 to 64:45. Loiselle’s teammate, Rejean Chiasson had a strong effort to hang on for 3rd in 64:54. In marked contrast, Bazeley took off from the Start to open up a gap over London, Ontario’s Leslie Sexton and Nova Scotia’s Erin MacLean, that she never eelinquished. The three finished in that order in 1:16:34, 1:16:54 and 1:17:02. The other big winners on the day were the 31 Official Charities in the Scotiabank Group Charity Challenge who raised a whopping, record total of $525,000. This was an increase of 33% over last year’s fundraising.
Clear blue skies, but chilly (+2 degrees) and breezy conditions greeted the record, sold-out fields of 3,000 in the 21K and 1,700 in the accompanying 5K, in scenic Parc Jean Drapeau. In the Championship race, it was Chiasson who moved immediately to the front and tried to move things along. He passed 1km in 3:02 at La Ronde Amusement Park, and 2km in a modest 6:09, before slipping further to 9:16 at 3km, but no-one would go with the native of St.Isadore, New Brunswick. Instead, a sizeable pack led by Loiselle, Gillis, Hamilton’s Josephat Ongeri and Oakville’s Giitah Macharia were content to trot along, 5 to 10 metres back as the race circled
Ile St.Helene. They hit 5km in 15:28 before habitual front-runner Ongeri lost patience and moved up to join Chiasson. Ongeri then put in 2:59 and 3:02 kilometres as the race moved over the Cosmos Bridge and onto Ile Notre Dame, the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit and circumnavigated the Olympic Rowing Basin. Between 7km and 8km, Gillis and Loiselle gradually worked their way back up to Ongeri, but the former Kenyan, Canadian Landed Immigrant seemed energized by the company and promptly took off again around the Basin with a 2:57 9th kilometre, that opened up a 50m gap again! In the process of working their way back into contact, the lead pack was whittled down to just Loiselle, Gillis and Chiasson. They gobbled up Ongeri by 15km (46:01), and the 4 were content to run together until they moved back onto Ile St.Helene. Chiasson was the first to drop off, just after 17km, but he hung tough and kept the gap to no more than 10m. The race began in earnest when Loiselle and Gillis dropped in a 2:57 19th kilometre, and the two-man duel was on. Around the South-East end of St. Helene the two battled each other and the brisk northerly wind. “I wanted to make my move there,” said Loiselle, “and get away from Eric, not leave it to the end, but the wind was too tough.” The Speed River Olympian struck with about 8oom to go to claim the National Championship and gain some revenge for Loiselle’s triumph over him at the Vancouver SunRun two weeks ago (where Loiselle was 3rd, Gillis 4th).
“I’m very pleased with the win,” said Gillis. “I was a bit nervous going into the race. I’d had some niggling injury problems that affected my biomechanics and I haven’t been feeling quite right. Then I had a poor race at the SunRun, and it has been a very busy week with the Olympic Team Announcement, a photo shoot and lots of media. So I was content to just sit in the pack today. As the race went on I started to feel really good – so that’s a good sign! About 17k Matt and I started to test each other. I felt really good and took off on him with about 800m to go. We start our London training on May 7th, so this was a really good confidence booster!”
Chiasson had an excellent, dig-down-deep day, to come back on Ongeri, finish just 16 seconds back with a big PB, and show he can now mix it up with the big boys. It bodes well for his attempt at a sub 2:15 marathon in Ottawa next month. Montreal runners Philippe Viau-Dupuis and David Le Porho also helped each other the whole way round to significant PBs, as they finished together in 68:37 in 10th and 11th place.
A radiant Kate Vaughan was similarly pleased with her victory. “I’m very happy. It was tough out there on my own and with the wind. But this is my first big win and it feels great!” At 28, 24 and 27 years old, Bazeley, Sexton and MacLean showed the promise of some exciting new talent moving up to the marathon distance soon, to help in the continued renaissance of Canadian Women’s as well as Men’s distance running.
Longeuil’s Myriam Grenon had another impressive performance to finish 7th Overall and take the Canadian Masters Women’s crown in 1:19:46. Ottawa’s Rich Minichiello took the Men’s Masters title with an equally resounding performance of 70:07, good for 14th overall.
Canada Running Series now moves West to the Scotiabank Vancouver Half-marathon & 5K on June 24th, that promises to be a dandy, with Eric Gillis and fellow Olympic Team Member Reid Coolsaet, Matt Loiselle, Rob Watson, Kip Kangogo already confirmed. More news on an anticipated strong Women’s field to come shortly.