By Paul Gains
Waving flags, loud crowds and other celebratory expressions have greeted the Ethiopian winners of the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon the past several years as supporters have come out en masse.
Ethiopian women have for seven consecutive years won the IAAF Gold Label race while the men have a four-year streak going. That dominance may very well continue as the 2017 edition of the IAAF gold race is set for May 28. Clearly Ethiopians love Ottawa.
“There are so many things I like about Canada but simply the city of Ottawa is so beautiful with amazing people,” says Koren Jelela, the defending Ottawa champion. “What I remember most about Ottawa last year is that the weather was so heavy – it was windy and cloudy – and we Ethiopians finished 1-2-3 in the women’s race.
“But the support of Ethiopians in the crowd, I remember, made me so happy and proud that we all have got these results and made those other people happy. I was so sure all the hard work was worth it.”
Among those supporters was Mrs. Birtukan Ayano, the Ethiopian Ambassador to Canada, who attended a dinner with her compatriots at a local Ethiopian restaurant. She plans to host a dinner for the athletes this year at the Ethiopian embassy.
At the moment Jelela is running roughly 180K each week at altitude, alongside some of the world’s top marathoners, with the intention of defending her Ottawa title. A year ago she easily handled the competition, which included 2015 winner Aberu Mekuria, stretching her winning margin to nearly three minutes by the finish. Now Mekuria is also returning with vengeance in mind.
The men’s race will feature several Ethiopian stars including Seboka Tola Dibaba marking his second visit to Canada in seven months. He finished a strong second at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon last October. With a personal best of 2:06:17 from the 2012 Dubai Marathon he will be one to watch. He is joined by countryman Sisay Jisa (2:06:27 personal best).
Jisa has the nickname ‘Sherube’ for his unique hairstyle – he races with his hair in cornrows. Earlier this year he finished 4th in Dubai with a time of 2:08:09 and Ottawa will mark his first race in Canada. Also making the journey from Ethiopia this year is Adugna Takele. He finished second in the 2013 Ottawa 10k and then moved up to the marathon. With a personal best of 2:08:31 he returns to Ottawa to compete in the 42K event.
Not only do Ethiopian runners have a grip on the podium but both the course record holders are from the East African nation. Yemane Tsegay is the fastest in the race’s history with a Canadian all-comer’s record of 2:06:54 from 2014. Past London Marathon champion Tigist Tufa holds the women’s course record, a 2:24:31.
As Jelela says there is national pride.
“I hope to run 2:23 as it is going to be my best time there and, yes, I expect we will run 1-2-3 and we will celebrate,” she reveals.
Ottawa Race Weekend will be celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary at the end of May making the already-popular event that much more of an attraction in 2017.