In a little brush with greatness, women medalists in Sunday's Toronto Yonge Street 10km will receive their awards from the Boston Marathon champion, Wesley Korir of Kenya, while Canada's two-time Olympian Eric Gillis will give prizes to the men.
"As keen as he is be involved in the ceremony that function is secondary to cheering on his wife, Tarah McKay-Korir, to victory," said a statement from the organizing Canada Running Series Group.
She is one of the favourites to win the women's race and Korir will be at the finish with their daughter, McKayla, to greet her, the statement said.
Gillis, a native of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, who now lives and trains in Guelph, Ont., just completed four weeks of high-altitude training. Last October he finished fourth in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in a personal best time of 2:11:28, beating the Olympic standard by one second.
Four years ago Gillis represented Canada at the Beijing Olympics in the 10,000 metres. He joins Speed River Track Club training partner, Reid Coolsaet, and Dylan Wykes in the London Olympic marathon.
Although he is not racing this weekend, Gillis will be racing in the Canada Running Series' Banque Scotia 21K de Montreal, which doubles as the National Half-marathon Championships, April 29.
McKay-Korir lines up for the race bidding to run the family's string to three victories in three weekends. The 25-year-old from Elmira, Ont., won the Harry's Spring Run Off 8km on April 7 in impressive fashion. Next, her husband, Wesley beat a world-class field and oppressive weather conditions to win the Boston Marathon this past Monday.
"He has a really distinctive cheer so it's always really motivating to hear him out along the course," McKay-Korir says of her husband's presence on race day. "Also his running is really motivational too and inspiring. He helps me a lot with my running. He often goes for his easy runs with me, like when we were in Kenya. Definitely having him there is motivational."
The couple met while both were student-athletes at the University of Louisville.
The inspiration flows both ways. In Boston, Wesley's special hydration bottles bore the names of Tarah and McKayla and he also taped Canadian flags to them so they were distinguishable on the cluttered water tables.
At present the couple are splitting their time between Elmira, Ont., where they live in Tarah's parents basement apartment and a home they have just built in the village of Chepkanga high up in Kenya's Great Rift Valley. She's trained three months at high altitude in Kenya. Standing between her and victory is a competitive women's field led by Kate Van Buskirk, who graduated from Duke University a year ago after being an NCAA medalist in middle distances. A member of Athletics Toronto she is now coached by former Canadian 1,500m record holder Dave Reid.
The Toronto Yonge Street 10km women's course record was set in 2007 by Kenya's Florence Jepkoskei at 31 minutes 42 seconds.
In the men's event, Coolsaet is one of the favourites. He is also participating in a special medal ceremony Sunday. He is donating the third-place medal he won at the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to the winner of a draw. The money raised in this draw is to help offset training expenses on the road to London 2012.
To win, he has to defeat Kenyan native Kip Kangogo.
A year ago the Kenyan born resident of Lethbridge, Alta., finished steps behind Canadian Olympians Coolsaet and Gillis in Toronto with a time of 28:09.4. Coolsaet won the race in 28:08.0.
The three-time Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon champion and has twice beaten Coolsaet over 10,000 metres at the Canadian Track and Field Championships (in 2011 and 2010). On both of those occasions he had to watch the victory ceremony from the stands. Kangogo, is a permanent resident who is seeking Canadian citizenship. His name appears on the results with an asterisk.
Kangogo was born in the village of Kitura in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, the middle of seven children born to farmers. He tended goats as a child.
He remembers the villagers all talking about the exploits of five-time world cross-country champion Paul Tergat who lived nearby. Although Kangogo was inspired by Tergat's accomplishments it wasn't until he arrived in Canada to study at Lethbridge Community College in 2001 that he took running seriously.