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TORONTO (21-Oct) -- With temperatures only slightly above freezing and a pesky wind blowing from the northwest, Benson Kipruto of Kenya and Mimi Belete of Bahrain won the 19th Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in quick times here this morning. Kipruto, who was on pace to better the event record of 2:06:52 two-thirds of the way through, made a successful late-race breakaway to win in 2:07:24. Belete won an intense, late-race battle with defending champion Marta Megra of Ethiopia, and broke the event record of 2:22:43 with her 2:22:29 clocking. Both winners won CAD 30,000 in prize money, and Belete won an additional CAD 40,000 bonus for breaking the course record.
While Kipruto and Belete were the overall winners, the bigger story locally was the excellent debut by U.S.-based Canadian Olympian Cameron Levins who shattered the nearly 43-year-old national record of Jerome Drayton which has haunted Canadian athletics since 1975. Running even splits from the second pack, Levins went through halfway in 1:04:31, then pushed through the second half only slightly slower to place fourth overall in 2:09:25 (Drayton's time, set in Fukuoka, was 2:10:09). Levins won the Canadian title and earned a special CAD 43,000 time bonus --1000 dollars for each year the record stood-- in addition to his overall and national championships prize money.
"I kind of knew I was going good through most of the race (and) through the last 10-K," Levins said during his post-race television interview. "I had a rough last couple of years (where he missed the 2016 Olympic Games). "I wanted to take back my career, and I did that."
With the help of three Kenyan pacemakers --Luke Kibet, Alex Kibarus and Paul Kiprop-- the men's race went off at a solid and responsible clip given the conditions. The 10-K mark was hit in 30:01, and the race already registered its first casualty. Two-time defending champion Philemon Rono was already 30 seconds behind. He would fade further and only finish ninth in 2:13:37.
By halfway (1:03:08), the leading group was down to four: Kipruto, Tanzania's Augustine Sulle, Kenya's Felix Kandie, and New Zealand's Jake Robertson. Kipruto decided to bide his time and wait for much later to strike. Past the 35-kilometer mark, Kipruto put in a surge and only Sulle could answer.
"When I was at 35 kilometers (I thought) let me try to push," Kipruto said in his post-race television interview. "When I pushed I saw the guys were not following."
Within a kilometer, Sulle was also dropped and Kipruto found himself racing only against the clock. Organizers had offered an out-sized bonus of CAD 40,000 for setting a course record, and an even juicier CAD 50,000 for a sub-2:06:30.
But the combination of cold, wind and fatigue made it too difficult for Kipruto to keep up his three minutes per kilometer pace. He faded a bit in the final seven kilometers and had to settle for just the win, instead.
"This was my first win in marathon," said a delighted Kipruto wrapped in a blanket.
Sulle held on for second in a Tanzanian record 2:07:46. Kandie was third in 2:08:30, and Robertson --whom Levins passed in the final kilometer-- finished fifth in 2:09:52 in his second marathon.
The women --with the help of strong male pacer, Guta Hunde of Ethiopia-- went out more aggressively than the men. A pack of four formed within the first 10 kilometers (33:30): Belete, Megra, Ruth Chebitok of Kenya and Amane Beriso of Ethiopia. The four stayed together through halfway in 1:10:35, well under both course record and all-comers record (2:22:17) pace.
But by 30-K (1:40:30) Chebitok was dropped. Megra was the next to falter, leaving Belete and Megra alone together at 40-K where the pacemaker, Hunde, abandoned the race. Not wasting any time, Belete quickly put in a surge, and Megra fell back. Belete's lead was only a few meters, but it stuck until the finish line despite Megra's best efforts to close the gap.
"I trained very well," Belete told reporters through a translator. "I know I was going to be competitive. I know I was going to run my best time, my personal best. That's how I won."
Megra scored a personal best 2:22:35 in second place, and Chebitok rallied in the closing stages of the race to finish third in 2:23:29, also a personal best. Beriso struggled from 30-K to the finish, and fell to sixth place in 2:28:56. Running her own race, Australia's Jess Trengove set a personal best 2:25:59 in fourth place, and Kenya's Celestine Chepchirchir finished fifth in 2:26:58.
The Canadian national title for women went to debutante Kinsey Middleton who clocked 2:32:09 to finish seventh. She beat reigning champion Leslie Sexton by nearly four minutes after the two ran together for most of the race.
Levins said he was ready to celebrate his Canadian record in style, someplace warmer.
"Tomorrow I'm going on a cruise with my wife down in the Bahamas and getting some warm weather," he said.