The drama of Sunday’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will be a skirmish on the downtown streets in the financial district -- not among those geared up for the Occupy Toronto protest but among those clad in running shoes, seeking a spot in the London OlympicGames, says Alan Brookes, race director for the downtown Toronto running fixture.
The finish line for the 42.195-km race is set for King and Bay Streets, which also happens to be Canada’s financial centre and ground zero for the protest. The name sponsor of the 22,000-runner sold-out races -- marathon, half-marathon and 5 km run -- is one of Canada’s major financial institutions.
But the ingredients won’t boil over into violence, Brookes said.
“Last weekend, when the major marathon was in Chicago, so was the Occupy Chicago protest, and nothing happened to upstage the race,” Brookes said Friday, Toronto Waterfront officials welcomed a ceremonial flame from Marathon, Greece.
“The security forces dealt with everything in Occupy Chicago last weekend. People peacefully co-existed and recognized everyone’s democratic right to have their voices heard,” he said. Pamphlets and literature was distributed, but Brookes said he was not aware of any acts of violence.
The Toronto area marathons are known as fund-raisers and profile-raisers for social-needs organizations. “We’re friends of social causes,” he said.
This year, Waterfront Marathon runners will collect some $3-million for 164 charities including Nellie’s Women’s Shelter, women’s assault help lines, food banks, Amnesty International and Matthew House for refugees. Brooks said its the charities’ opportunity to be seen and create awareness “and clearly the protestors have a similar goal. The marathon flame is burning here to promote world peace and the spirit of democracy that comes from Greece. We hope that the protesters can convey their message tomorrow [Saturday].”
There is $150,000 prize money and a number of international Olympicteam places at stake. Runners from 50 countries are taking part, some with Olympic berths almost closed.
Kenyan star Kenneth Mungara, 38, returns to this IAAF Silver Label race seeking a fourth consecutive victory in Toronto after 2010’s win in a course record 2:07:58. His compatriot, Nixon Machichim - 4th last year in 2:08:22 - will challenge.
“The course is not really flat but its good,” Mungara said in an interview. “I feel good. You can’t say how fast you can go, it depends on the pacemakers. I can’t push then if they go slow. I have to save my energy until they leave, then I push it on my own... They may cost a lot of money but they do a lot of the job. They cook the race. I can’t cook, I take it to the table.”
Athletics Kenya already has announced world champion Abel Kirui and world record holder Patrick Makau have been given two of the three spots for the Olympics.
A strong Canadian representation, seeking London Olympic singlets is led by Guelph’s Reid Coolsaet (2:11:23), his Speed River Track Club teammate, Eric Gillis (2:12:08) and Dylan Wykes (2:12:39). Coolsaet’s time from a year ago gives him an advantage. Unless Gillis, Wykes and the absent Simon Bairu can run faster than his best time, he will be representing Canada at London 2012.
“I’ll have a shot at it [breaking the 36-year-old Canadian native mark of Jerome Drayton], but a lot depends on the weather. If it’s windy, I’ll have to go with a different plan,” he said.
“The rain isn’t so much a problem -- a heavy rain might bog things down and make the shoes heavy. But a light rain is actually refreshing.”
The women’s race features Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba, who holds the Ethiopian national half marathon record of 1:07:13 -- the eighth fastest woman in history at that distance. Last year she ran 2:25:27 at the Frankfurt marathon demonstrating her potential at the classic distance. She is not short of confidence.
“I am expecting to run between 2:22 and 2:23 if I have a good pacemaker,” she declares. Her compatriot, Koren Jelela Yal is pushing for a similar time. She ran 2:24:33 in Toronto a year ago and won the steamy hot Mumbai marathon in January in 2:26:56. She comes to Toronto in the best shape of her life.
“My target will be to run my personal best, under 2:24, but, to do it, everything depends on the weather conditions and if I have a good pacemaker, like last year,” she said.
Folks from the Guinness Book of World Records will be in Toronto also to follow the performances of Britain’s 100 year old Fauja Singh who set eight age-group world records Friday and hopes to be the first centenarian to finish a marathon. He has appeared in the adidas “Impossible is Nothing” advertising campaign, making the humble ex-farmer in a yellow turban something of a celebrity.
Canada’s own master’s competitor, Ed Whitlock, will attempt to break his world record for 80 year olds on Sunday. He ran 3:25:43 at the Rotterdam Marathon in the spring. That’s fast enough for a man half his age to qualify for the Boston marathon.