Kenya's John Kelai won a thrilling duel with defending champion, Daniel Rono, at this morning's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront to record the fastest time ever run on Canadian soil, 2:09:30. In so doing, Kelai eclipsed the mark of 2:09:55, set by East Germany's Waldemar Cierpinski at the 1976 Olympic Marathon in Montreal. "It was a 31-year old record that we we're beginning to think we'd never break!" said race director Alan Brookes. In the women's race, Ethiopia's Asha Gigi led from Start to Finish to set a new course record of 2:33:16. Last year's winner and former course record-holder, Malgorzata Sobanska, was second in 2:34:21.
Conditions were excellent in Toronto, with clear skies, low humidity, little or no wind, and a temperature around 12°Celcius at the 7am start in the downtown area of North America's 5th largest city.
The pacemakers did a solid job of getting a lead pack of 7 to half-way in 65 minutes [even], on the flat, scenic Waterfront course along Lake Ontario. By 30k, passed in 1:32:37, the group was down to five and the stage was set: Kelai and Rono, Ethiopian Kasime Adilo, and other Kenyans, Simon Wangai and Henry Kapkyai. By the East-end turn around in The Beaches neighbourhood at 33k+, Kapkyai was dropping off. Wangai was the next to go, around 38k, and a very gutsy Kasime Adilo held on until 40k.
Then it was the Rono-Kelai show that race organizers had hoped for. Rono surged and Kelai went with him, dropping Adilo. Rono went hard again just before 41km and opened up a gap of some 30 or 40 metres. Kelai was looking over his shoulder, and the television commentators had "called it"—Rono had made the decisive break. Then, remarkably, with about 700m to go, on Bay Street, Kelai made his move. He was still well back when they made the final turn onto Wellington St, with 600m to go, but closing. The signs clicked by as nail-biting spectators watched on the Finish Line jumbotron screen… 500m to go, 400m to go, then at 300m to go Kelai blew by Rono for the victory and the new record—fastest marathon ever on Canadian soil. To do so, the protagonists covered the last 5km well under 15 minutes. Rono crossed the line in 2:09:36 for an important PR and his fist time under 2:10. Adilo was third in 2:10:20—almost 2 minutes faster than his previous best from 2005; Wangai came in a solid fourth in 2:10:53.
Asha Gigi has things all her own way in the Women's race, but did so in dramatic style. Perhaps over-enthused by Haile's run earlier in the day in Berlin, Gigi went through 5k in the low 16 minute range; she was still 33:35 at 10k, and 72:13 at the half. At 10k, she was just behind the two Team GB men, Neil Renault and Adrian Marriott, who ran 2:18:57! She paid for her injudicious early pace, fading badly in the later stages to come home in 2:33:16—still good enough for a new women's course record, but well short of the sub 2:30 time expected. In marked contrast, veteran Malgorzata Sobanska of Poland ran a very even, controlled race, but just ran out of real estate in closing the gap on Gigi. She finished second in 2:34:21, just 11 seconds slower than the time she ran at Toronto Waterfront in 2006, to set the old course record.
In the International Team Challenge for developmental athletes [2 men, 2 women per team], Team GB narrowly defeated Team Mexico. Team Canada was third and Team America/USA was 4th.
Over the past 5 years, the sponsorship from Scotiabank and support from adidas have helped lower Toronto Waterfront winning times from 2:17 to 2:14 to 2:11 to 2:10, to yesterday's 2:09:30, and make the event one of the few sub-2:10 races in North America.
Full results and photos at: www.torontowaterfrontmarathon.com.