MONTREAL. April 28. Olympian Eric Gillis and World Championships-bound Krista DuChene proved the class of the field this morning as they raced to comfortable victories at the Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal, the Athletics Canada National Half-Marathon Championships. Defending champion Gillis of the Speed River TFC in Guelph covered the scenic, winding course in Parc Jean Drapeau in 65:57. Brantford’s DuChene ran an impressive 72:28.
Conditions were good, though a little warm (15c to 18c), with bright blue skies, low humidity and no wind, as a sold-out crowd of 3,300 toed the line for the 10am Start on Ile Ste-Helene, Parc Jean Drapeau in the middle of the St.Lawrence River. Another 2,000 had already run and walked the accompanying 5K that began at 8:30am.
It was great to see Gillis with another strong outing after his protracted, difficult recovery from last summer’s London Olympic Marathon. And DuChene is on fire, as she goes from strength to strength, building on her breakthrough successes at Rotterdam and Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon last year, on the road to Moscow in August.
Gillis took command from the start. He ran 3:00 for the first kilometre, was 6:00 at 2km, and 9:03 at 3km. By that time, only Athletics Toronto’s Rejean Chiasson was hanging on. He was dispatched shortly after 4km, and Gillis passed 5k in 15:14 alone. From there he raced alone around the Gilles Villeneuve F1 Circuit and around the Olympic rowing Basin. The pace gradually slipped to 3:07s, then 3:10, and even a 3:18 between 17k and 18k. It was nevertheless a strong, confidence-restoring effort for the 32 year old native of Antigonish, N.S. “It feels good to get the win,” he said. “I’m happy to race here on a beautiful day. I wanted to go out hard. I stopped looking at my watch at around 10k. It was a really good workout and prep for my Ottawa Marathon (May 26). It feels really good to get back out there in the race routine.” Toronto Yonge Street 10K last Sunday (2nd in 29:01) and today’s Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal were Eric’s first two races since the Games. Despite suffering from an as-yet-un-diagnosed malady, Chiasson stuck to it and was pleased to break his string of bronze medal performances at the Half marathon Championships, with a silver in 68:04. It was also encouraging to see the host province make the podium with 26 year-old Rouge et Or athlete Patrice Hamelin, taking 3rd in 69:02.
DuChene’s effort was even more impressive. Her 72:28 was just 19 seconds shy of Tara Quinn-Smith’s national record of 72:09, set on the same course in 2009. “I just stuck with the game plan that (Coach) Rick (Mannen) and I made. I felt really good for the first half, especially. I’m very pleased with the performance! It’s great motivation to keep going for three more months of hard training until Moscow (World Championships Marathon) in August.” Silver medallist Dayna Pidhoresky of Tecumseh, Ontario, was equally satisfied with the outing as she recovers from a full year sidelined by injury. “In the end, I just didn’t have the training in the legs yet,” she said. “I knew I was racing for second, so I wanted to go out hard, and try to get some distance between myself and the others. I hung onto Krista for about 3k, and that gave me the start I needed.” Dayna crossed the line in 76:39. Orillia’s Lisa Avery built on her strong performance at last week’s Vancouver SunRun (7th in 34:37) to take what was perhaps a surprise 3rd place in 77:08.
While the sudden rise in temperature worked against fast times, the sunshine brought out great crowds and a festive atmosphere that was much welcomed after the tragic events in Boston just 2 weeks ago. A moment of silence was held before each race and Boston 1980 Women’s Champion, Jacqueline Gareau was on hand to run the 21K (1:38:14. 1st in F60-64), to present the champions with their awards, and add to a very special sense of occasion.
Some 40 area charities also went home with big smiles as more than $625,000 was raised for them at the event.