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by Paul Gains
As befits a nation’s capital, Ottawa proudly hosts a world-class marathon, which has achieved the IAAF Silver Label status the past five years. What is unique in this Canadian city is that, on the same weekend, it also runs an IAAF Silver Label 10km race.
No other city in the world can make that claim.
In order to earn the prized distinction of an IAAF Silver Label, the event must include athletes from a minimum of five countries who have achieved extraordinary qualifying standards set by the IAAF. The race must also have first-class media services, be measured accurately and be run on a completely closed course.
The 2013 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend surpasses all these criteria and has become a destination for some of the world's greatest distance runners.
The 2013 edition is set for May 25-26 with the 10k starting on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and the marathon 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Because of the unique two-day format, many of the elite marathoners join VIPs at the finish line of the 10k to cheer on their countrymen and partake in the festive atmosphere.
Thanks to the efforts of elite athlete coordinator Manny Rodrigues, the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend consistently attracts a large contingent of the world’s greatest distance runners. They will be among the more than 43,000 participants in the weekend’s six events. In fact, the number of elite athletes is comparable to some of the biggest races in the world. Looking at the course records, it’s clear that Ottawa enjoys a positive reputation in the world of road running.
“I don't have a personal performance highlight,” says Rodrigues. “But I guess if you want to single out one, then Deriba Merga's 10k does stand out because it finally broke John Halvorsen's course record after twenty-one years.”
Halvorsen, who represented Norway at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, and holds dual citizenship, assumed the role of President and Race Director of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend earlier this year.
Deriba Merga came to Ottawa in 2009 having won the Boston marathon a month earlier. The Ethiopian star was looking for a world 10k record and the accompanying $100,000 bonus. But after nudging the appointed pacemaker to go faster, around the three-kilometre mark, he set off alone. Facing a head wind in the latter stages of the race, he had to be content with a course record of 27:24. At the time, that was the 7th fastest performance ever recorded.
Merga is far from being the only Boston winner to compete in Ottawa. Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai returns to the Ottawa 10k after easily winning here last year in 27:47. Mutai has won three of the World Marathon Majors: the 2011 Boston Marathon, 2012 New York Marathon and the 2012 Berlin Marathon.
“The course in Ottawa is not bad,” Mutai has revealed. “But for a 10 km race it’s very important that weather conditions are good. I will need an athlete who can run a stable speed as pacemaker. I prefer a pacemaker from my own training group who knows me and I know him.”
To that end, his training partner, Charles Kimeli, will accompany him to Ottawa in search of a fast time.
A year ago, Kenya’s Laban Moiben - winner of the Mumbai and Los Angeles marathons - set an Ottawa Marathon course record of 2:09:12. Although that time pales in comparison to those recorded on some of the pancake-flat courses, Moiben knows that Ottawa is about racing ‘mano a mano’ and not necessarily racing against the clock.
The incredible list of Ottawa alumni also includes Wesley Korir of Kenya, who finished 2nd in the 2011 10k race and went on to win back to-back Los Angeles Marathons and more recently, the 2012 Boston Marathon. Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa is another fine example. He won the 2013 Dubai marathon in 2:04:45 and then won the Boston Marathon this past April. Three years ago he won the Ottawa 10k in 28:09.
Meanwhile, high caliber female runners are also attracted to Ottawa’s great crowds and fast 10k and marathon courses. The women's marathon course record belongs to Morocco’s Asmae Leghazououi, who stunned everyone with her 2:27:41 in 2009. But the most famous Ottawa 10k alumnus must be Kenya's Catherine Ndereba, the four-time Boston marathon champion, who also won two world titles and two Olympic medals. She won the 2007 Ottawa 10k in 33:01.
Dire Tune of Ethiopia, the 2008 Boston Marathon winner, has featured prominently at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend in the past. Tune won the 2010 and 2011 Ottawa 10k races. But it is another Kenyan, Grace Momanyi, who holds the excellent 10k course record of 31:24, which she set in 2005.
In addition to attracting some of the world’s top runners, Ottawa has always provided a great opportunity for Canadian athletes to tackle world-class competition on home soil without suffering the jet lag normally associated with travel. Having more than 100,000 spectators along the route always helps too.
Eric Gillis, a two-time Canadian Olympian had planned to run the Ottawa Marathon this year but pulled out in mid-May due to injury. Canadian Krista Duchene will use the 10k to prepare for the world championships marathon in Moscow later this summer. Others such as Canadian 10,000m record holder Simon Bairu have also raced here. Bairu won the 2007 Ottawa 10k.
With some of this year’s hottest runners set to compete in Ottawa’s two IAAF Silver Label events, Ottawa spectators and running enthusiasts are in for another weekend of record-setting finishes at the 2013 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.