Philemon Rono survived a pre-race accident to take a surprise victory at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday, running away from a strong field to win the IAAF Gold Label Road Race in 2:08:27.
The diminutive Kenyan, who is a training partner of Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, broke free of a strong field to take a decisive lead with five kilometres remaining. Seboka Dibaba of Ethiopia finished second in 2:09:47 with 22-year-old Albert Korir taking the final podium place in 2:10:23.
Rono nearly pulled out of the race after an accident during his warm-up. He was using a barricade to stretch his hamstrings when it tipped over and came crashing down on top of him. Blood ran down the side of his face and he said he felt dizzy. But after consulting with his management team, he decided to start. Within three kilometres he was fully recovered and the accident was largely forgotten.
“I was not expecting to win today,” he said, a gash still evident on the side of his face. “It was a surprise. When I fell and hurt my head, I thought I would not run.
“When I arrived here (in Toronto) I thought I might be in the top three. I was very strong I was very competitive. When I took the lead I was pushing hard. I said ‘let it be’.
“Eliud (Kipchoge) is my training partner. I thought after he won the Olympic Games I should win this race. We are training partners so it was a good marathon for me. He told me I would win this race so I was very confident.”
Pacemakers took the group through a quick first half in 1:03:22 as the elite field had set a target of beating Derissa Chimsa’s course record of 2:07:05. But the temperature at the start was 18C with almost 90% humidity. A light drizzle fell half an hour into the race, complicating matters further as some of the turns became slippery. Then in the second half, the humidity proved energy sapping.
Dibaba, who has endured two surgeries on his groin in the past couple of years, complained of pain towards the end of the race. At about 30km, he had taken the lead which helped drop defending champion Isshimael Chemtan.
“I pushed after 27km, but the road was very difficult because of the rain,” said Dibaba. “There was water on the road. I am happy for the second place. I like it.
Ethiopia’s Shure Demise became the first woman to successfully defend her Toronto title by crossing the finish line in 2:25:19. For much of the race the 20-year-old led a pack made up of her compatriots Tadelech Bekele, Ashete Bekere and Fatuma Sado. It wasn’t until the final five kilometres that victory appeared within her grasp.
Bekele’s tenacity earned her second place in 2:26:31 with Rebecca Chesir of Kenya holding on for third place in 2:28:54. Shure, who clocked 2:23:37 when winning in Toronto last year, was gracious when talking about her rivalry with Bekele.
“I have a great deal of happiness for winning,” said Demise, who set an unofficial world U20 best of 2:20:59 in Dubai last year. “About 35km I knew that I would win the race. I would have been as happy if she won. She is my friend and we are very close; we come from the same place so I would have been just as happy. “When we started I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with the rain. I was a bit conscious of that but it got better.”