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May 12, 2014 - Update: Krista DuChene and Atsedu Tsegay are no longer running due to injury. 

Geoffrey Mutai returns to the Lowertown Brewery Ottawa 10k to face possibly the greatest 10k field ever assembled on Canadian soil and one certainly worthy of its IAAF Silver Label status.

The 2012 champion (27:42), Mutai also raced here a year ago but, after pushing the pace most of the way, eventually wound up third in 27:39, two seconds behind El Hassan Elabbassi of Morocco (27:37) and Ethiopian Adugna Bikila (27:38).

The Kenyan superstar is a two-time winner of the New York marathon, the former Berlin marathon champion, and is also the Boston Marathon course record-holder. Furthermore, he knows the Ottawa roads inside out. This year, however, he faces the course record holder (27:24) Deriba Merga of Ethiopia. Both men are capable of running from the front or kicking over the final quarter mile.

The course record is certainly attainable, especially considering that when Merga set the record in 2009 he set out alone at the three-kilometre mark. Indeed, he was on world record pace until the final third of the course when he faced a stiff headwind. Merga, of course, is best known for winning the 2009 Boston Marathon.

“I am excited to take on such great athletes (in Ottawa),” he says, “and I hope that all together we can push the race to be very fast and, God willing, the course record will fall and the organisers will be very happy with the race.”

Mutai, meanwhile, finished 6th in the Virgin London Marathon April 13th but is expected to be well-recovered for Ottawa. Apart from Merga, his stiffest competition is likely to come from his countryman Wilson Kiprop.

The 27-year-old Kiprop’s claim to fame is winning the 2010 IAAF World Half Marathon championships but he also holds the distinction of running the fastest ever 10,000m at high altitude 27:26.93. On that day in Nairobi he fended off the challenge of one Geoffrey Mutai to win the 2010 Kenyan Championships.

More significantly, Kiprop won the 2012 Kenyan Olympic trials, which were held in Eugene, Oregon in 27:01.98 and went to London hoping to end Kenya’s 44 year-old gold medal drought. But a few weeks before the games he encountered injury. Despite treatment, he says, he was in pain during the Olympics and dropped out of the race.

Full of ability and strength but prone to inconsistency, it will be interesting to see which Wilson Kiprop turns up in the Canadian capital. The prospects of facing his compatriot have him motivated.

“To be honest, I don't know much about this race,” Kiprop admits. “In the past years the date did not fit with my competition schedule, but I always checked the results when athletes I knew were running there. Considering the winners of the past editions, I understand it is a high quality race and I'm pleased to compete this year.

“I’ve known Geoffrey for a long time, he is a serious professional athlete and I'm confident he will recover from the London Marathon, ready to run a fast race in Ottawa. I have good memories of the competitions we have run in Kenya and abroad. I consider him a fair opponent. I'll be ready to challenge him.”

Of course, surprises often occur and the 22-year-old Ethiopian Atsedu Tsegay could well be the man to provide one. With a best 10,000m on the track of 27:28.11 achieved last year and a half marathon best of 58:47, Tsegay has some decent credentials. And this is not his first time to Canada. He was 6th in the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships 5,000m in Moncton, New Brunswick.

On the Canadian side, Saskatchewan-native Kelly Wiebe was the top Canadian finisher last year running 29:22 for 8th place and is back again in 2014. He recently won the Modo Spring Run Off 8k race in Vancouver and will be chasing the prize money here. In addition to the regular top-eight prize money on offer, the first Canadian male and female finisher will earn a $2,000 bonus.

The women’s course record could fall

While the men’s race has the makings of an epic battle the women’s race will also be exciting and, if the weather cooperates, the course record of 31:24, set in 2005 by Grace Momanyi (Kenya), could fall.

The field is led by Kenya’s Mary Keitany, who is returning to competition following the birth of her daughter last year. Though she is best known for having twice won the London Marathon, where she set her personal best of 2:18:37, and finished 4th in the 2012 Olympics over that distance, she is also world class at every distance on the roads.

Her 10k personal best is a splendid 30:45, which she recorded en route to breaking the world half-marathon record in the 2011 Ras Al Khamaih Half Marathon. That standard of 1:05:50 stood until earlier this year.

A fearless front-runner, she will no doubt try to put distance between her and the rest of the field early in the race. Among her challengers are compatriots Caroline Kilel and Filomena Chepchirchir who went 1-2 at the 2013 Frankfurt Marathon with the former running 2:22:34.

Also not to be forgotten is the 24-year-old Ethiopian Yebrqual Melese who recorded a personal best of 31:40 for the 10k last year before winning the Ethiopian national 10,000m title in Assela. Claiming a national title in either of these East African countries is a magnificent achievement by any measure.

Three of Canada’s top distance runners will battle for national bragging rights. Canadian marathon record holder (2:28:00) Lanni Marchant, who finished 14th overall, and first Canadian, at the Boston Marathon April 21st, will tackle rivals Krista Duchene and Tara Korir. The latter, a native of St Clements. Ontario, has just finished six months of high altitude training in Kenya with husband Wesley Korir, who will line up for the Ottawa Marathon the following morning.

With a personal best of 31:57 and having run 32:29.61 on the track April 4th, Marchant is fastest on paper but there’s no telling how well she will recover from running the hills of Boston just five weeks earlier. Duchene, meanwhile, started off 2014 with victories at the Around the Bay Road Race (30km) and Harry’s Spring Run Off 8km demonstrating a winter of hitting the roads in arctic-like conditions at 5:00 a.m. has only strengthened her.

Unique to Ottawa, the event offers a ‘gender competition’ bonus. The elite women will be given a head start of roughly 4 minutes and whoever crosses the finish line first will collect $4,000 to go with the $6,000 first place prize. A course record fetches an additional $2,000.

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