TORONTO. October 2nd. “I would love to be the man who brings the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon title to Ethiopia,” says Siraj Gena upon learning that no Ethiopian man has ever won this IAAF Silver Label race.
“I want to win in a fast time. Yes, the bonuses are very nice for a fast time but the money is not what really motivates me. I really want to run much faster than my personal best as I am capable of doing and I want to really show my talent this year.”
The 27 year old sports a personal best time of 2 hour 8 minutes 31 seconds set in Frankfurt a year ago.
Gena famously won the 2010 Rome Marathon in 2:08:39 after stopping with five hundred metres remaining to remove his shoes. Race organizers had offered the winners 5000 Euros to cross the finish line barefoot to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Abebe Bikila’s barefoot victory in the 1960 Olympics.
It is unlikely that he will be able to afford such luxury in Toronto as the field includes such accomplished Kenyan runners as Gideon Yegon (2:06:18), John Kiprotich (2:07:08) and Charles Munyeki (2:07:06) as well as Stephen Chelimo, who was a pacemaker last year but who is returning, this time, to mark his debut at the marathon distance. The competition is expected to be fierce.
Three years ago Gena was scheduled to make his marathon debut in Toronto. But, due to a clerical error his passport went missing. Toronto’s loss was Frankfurt’s gain as the passport found its way back to him just in time to compete in the German race four weeks later. He ran a solid 2:10:41 that day.
Gena is part of the large group numbering eighty or so athletes who train under the watchful eye of coach Haji Adilo. He has run as much as 130 miles (210km) in a week during the buildup to the Toronto race.
“Haji Adilo recruited me to come to his group to train,” Gena says. “I had run a few marathons before joining Haji. But he saw me and knew I could run faster under his coaching. So I joined his group and since have dropped my personal best down to 2:08:31.”
Among the middle distance runners who are part of the training group is his wife Bertukan Feyisa, a 1,500m runner with a best time of 4:04.85. A sociable sort, Gena says he also enjoys watching European soccer on the television when he is recovering from the twice daily training sessions or having tea and coffee with his friends.
He points to two time Olympic 10,000m champion and former world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie as his main inspiration though, he says, representing Ethiopia in overseas marathons makes him proud.
“The marathon is the true test of the runner and, being very good at it, evokes a great sense of pride,” he insists. “I love being able to represent my country in such wonderful events as the Toronto marathon. So I guess I would say the great sense of pride is what makes me love the marathon.”
Like his compatriots he has his eye on the time bonuses that have been put on the table for the elite marathoners in Toronto. The course record, set in 2010 by Kenya’s Kenneth Mungara (2:07:58), is the target for a handful of runners in this year’s race. The winner will receive a bonus of $25,000 if he beats Mungara’s time. Gena knows what he would do with the money.
“I hope to own some property and real estate to sell in Ethiopia in the near future,” he reveals.
Most importantly he would like to score a Toronto victory for his country.