First place in a race doesn't always net the biggest spoils.
Kenyan Kenneth Mungara captured his fourth consecutive crown in the Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon on a cool, breezy Sunday in 2 hours nine minutes and 51 seconds, edging Ethiopian Shami Dawit.
But victory likely isn't enough to put the 38-year-old Mungara in a Kenyan singlet at the marathon start line for the 2012 London Olympics. He comes from a country where scores of marathoners can run 2:10 or better – and two of Kenya's three marathon places already have been given to world record holder Patrick Makau (2:03:38 at Berlin) and world champion Abel Kirui (2:07:38 at Daegu, South Korea).
On the other hand, Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis, stable-mates at Guelph, Ontario's Speed River club, found themselves celebrating London Olympic marathon berths after placing third and fourth, respectively, in the race along the Lake Ontario shoreline. And 100-year-old Fauja Singh set a record as the only centenarian to complete a marathon. The London, England runner who competes in a yellow turban, ran the race in 8:25:18. He, too hopes to go the Olympic Games – as a torchbearer.
Coolsaet and Gillis beat Athletics Canada's top Olympic qualifying standard of 2:11:29. Coolsaet had a personal-best marathon time of 2:10:55 and Gillis charged to fourth in 2:11:28, a second under the cutoff. They'll be Canada's first Olympic marathoners since Bruce Deacon was 44th at Sydney in 2000.
"I can't believe it was one second, over a marathon," Gillis marvelled of collecting the day's most important prize by such a slim margin. "I could have just as easily been one second over. I'm lucky to get that standard. I couldn't have done it this time last year," said Gillis, a native of Antigonish, N.S. He had set Olympic qualifying as his goal but had to overcome cold and blustery conditions. He knows what it takes to go to the Olympics. He finished 33rd as a 10,000-metre Olympian in Beijing.
Mungara was impressed with his own perseverance if not his time. Last year, in better weather, he ran the fastest time ever on Canadian soil, 2:07:58.
"It was a very good day for me today, but it was very tough on my body because it was very windy and cold," Mungara said.
Ethiopia's Koren Yal was the top female finisher in 2:22:43 – 13th overall and only a second slower than the female course record run in 2010 by Kenyan Sharon Cherop. Ethiopia's Mare Dibaba was second among the women Sunday in 2:23.25. Vancouver's Katherine Moore was eighth in 2:48.48.
Coolsaet, 32, came close to Drayton's Canadian native record – and may have to blame answering nature's call for missing out on the $36,000 bonus that was on offer for breaking the mark. The distance between Coolsaet's 2:10:55 and Jerome Drayton's 1975 record of 2:10:09 could be the brief bathroom break Coolsaet had to take at 25 km. He said the pause felt like only 15 seconds, but it also took him time to leave the race, to get back into it, to find his pacer again and claw his way back to the leaders.
He'd decided the night before– after getting out of bed and having a talk with coach Dave Scott-Thomas – that there was no reason not to try to hang on with the lead group. They were attempting to get through the first half of the race in 63:45, compared with 65 minutes for the second flight.
"I decided to roll the dice and go with the leaders," Coolsaet said. "I was fortunate enough to have a good pack that I was able to use to block the wind and that really helped me for the first 35-36 kilometres." But then the African lead runners accelerated and Coolsaet was on his own to gut it out the rest of the way.
In the half marathon, Thomas Breitenbach won the men's race in 1:07:21.2 and Leslie Sexton won the women's race in 1:16:32.6.
Fauja Singh, looking remarkably fresh at the end of his long race, said he "just completed a lifetime goal."