By Martin Cleary, The Ottawa Citizen
A dejected Deriba Merga of Ethiopia sat on a low step in a busy section of the elite athletes’ finish-line compound looking anything like the champion of Saturday night’s Ottawa Race Weekend 10-kilometre race.
It’s easy to understand why one of the world’s best distance runners was upset. But he wasn’t in any mood to talk about it, lacking true professionalism by refusing all interview requests.
His strategy was to go out fast on the new downhill course that promised to be faster than the one he set a race record on in 2009 at 27 minutes 24 seconds. But that strategy blew up in his face in the first half of the race, which was held under slightly humid temperatures and threatening skies.
While he won the men’s race by half a minute over Wesley Korir of Kenya in 28:30.3, he lost the gender challenge for the second straight year to smiling countrywoman Dire Tune by 42.5 seconds.
The women’s elite runners were given a 3:55 head start as race organizers hoped for a head-to-head male-female battle to the finish line.
It never happened as Tune ran an impressive, strong and well-paced race from start to finish to win her second women’s title in 31:43.2.
Tune also had another reason to be happy. She’s expecting Merga to buy her a meal to celebrate her second victory over him. Merga already owes her a congratulations dinner from the 2010 race, when he finished third to her first.
“I am going to keep him to his promise,” Tune said through interpreter Yodit Girmay of Ottawa.
Tune earned a total of $10,000 for her effort, $6,000 for winning the women’s race and $4,000 for taking the gender competition. “I am very happy I won because I beat the guys. I really thought that they would catch up to me,” said a smiling Tune. “Somehow, I beat them.”
Tune praised the crowd that sparsely lined most of the new course, which included a trip down Somerset Street and under the new Chinatown arch as well as a quick jaunt through Little Italy. “It was very good. When they were cheering, I was afraid the men were catching up,” she added. “It motivated me.”
Samira Raif of Morocco was second in 32:47.8 to pick up $3,500, while Ejegayehu Dibaba Keneni of Ethiopia was third in 32:57.9 and received $2,000. The top Canadian was Tarah McKay-Korir in eighth place at 34:36.1, while Joanna Brown of Carp was 16th in 37:07.5.
While Merga was painfully silent, Hussein Makke, who is his manager with Elite Sports Management, was brutally honest about his runner’s performance.
“He not only ran aggressively, but he went out too aggressively, 2:36 (for the first kilometre), 5:16 (second kilometre) and 8:04 (third kilometre),” he said. “Right there, he shot himself. He ran the fourth kilometre in three minutes and that was the beginning of the suffering. In the first four kilometres, he paid the price. Dire ran to win and ran her own pace.”
But, according to Makke, that’s Merga’s style.
“He’s a very ambitious guy, very anxious. It’s his way to run. He puts it all on the table. He’s not afraid to lose. He just wants to run.”
Korir was second in the men’s race in 29:00.3 to earn $3,500, while Ryan Vail of Portland, Oregon, picked up $2,000 for a third-place run of 29:09.9.
Eric Gillis of Guelph was the top Canadian, finishing fourth for the second consecutive year in 29:15.1 and receiving $1,200. Rejean Chiasson lead all Ottawa and area runners with an eighth-place finish in 30:05.8, earning $500.
“I had tough competition,” Gillis said. “It was a repeat of last year.”
Ryan McKenzie of Ottawa struggled with the humidity early in the men’s five-kilometre race, but he finished first and also won the Canadian Forces championship in 15:04.2 ahead of Charles Allan of Wolfe Island, Ont., (15:38.2) and Mathew Setlack of Ottawa (15:41.8).
“I’m not taking anything away from the other runners, but I felt absolutely horrible,” said McKenzie, who is preparing for the 2011 world military championships in Brazil. “It got humid and my chest tightened up.”
He started to feel better after three kilometres and owned a sizable lead at the same time.
“I had to run through it,” the military police officer said. “You either finish or collapse. It felt great to bring it home for the military.”
Leah Larocque of Kanata continued her success at the Ottawa Race Weekend by winning the women’s race in 17:32.0 ahead of Ioulia Nikonorova of Kanata (17:40.0) and Georgette Mink of Ottawa (17:43.2).
Competing in the Ottawa Race Weekend two-kilometre race for the fourth time, Antoine Laforte of Neuville, Que., which is west of Quebec City, broke seven minutes for the first time to win in 6:56. He is 12 years old. Alexander Astell of Ottawa was second in 7:12.5. Samuel Desjardins of Gatineau placed third in 7:14.8.
“I don’t know what to say,” a beaming Antoine said through race media relations co-ordinator Annie Boucher. “I’m very happy.”
Antoine’s entire family was competing in various weekend races and they also used the trip to visit relatives in Gatineau.
The top three in the women’s race were Marie-Piere Cloutier of Gatineau (7:17.5); Myriam Chenier of Masson (7:29) and Carolyn Godon of Gatineau (7:34.9).
Ottawa Race Weekend Results, Saturday, May 28, 2011
1. Deriba Merga, Ethiopia, 28 minutes, 30.3 seconds;
2. Wesley Korir, Kenya, 29:00.3;
3. Ryan Vail, USA, 29:09.0;
4. Eric Gillis, Guelph, 29:15.1;
5. Mohamed El Hachimi, Morocco, 29:18.4;
6. Nicholas Kurgat, Kenya, 29:20.0;
7. Matthew Loiselle, Toronto, 29:22.1;
8. Rejean Chiasson, Ottawa, 30:05.8;
9. Dylan Wykes, Vancouver, 30:17.3;
10. Rob Watson, Guelph, 30:23.6.
1. Dire Tune, Ethiopia, 31:43.2;
2. Samira Raif, Morocco, 32:47.8;
3. Ejegayehu Dibaba Keneni, Ethiopia, 32:57.9;
4. Hyvon Ngetich, Kenya, 33:41.7;
5. Aziza Aliyu, Ethiopia, 33:50.3;
6. Alemtsehay Misganaw, Ethiopia, 33:57.4;
7. Caroline Kirui, Kenya, 34:24.6;
8. Tarah McKay-Korir, Canada, 34:36.1;
9. Divina Jepkogei, Kenya, 34:38.4;
10. Hellen Jemutai, Kenya, 35:17.3.
1. Ryan McKenzie, Ottawa, 15:04.2;
2. Charles Allan, Wolfe Island, Ont., 15:38.2;
3. Mathew Setlack, Ottawa, 15:41.8;
4. Benjamin Brzezynski, North Bay, 15:43.3;
5. Nicolas Thouin, Gatineau, 15:48.8;
6. Kieran Day, Ottawa, 15:49.3;
7. Graydon Snider, Montreal, 15:54.6;
8. Alexandre Boule, Saguenay, 16:02.1;
9. Dany Racine, Victoriaville, Que., 16:02.5;
10. Karl Saidla, Chelsea, 16:02.8.
1. Leah Larocque, Kanata, 17:32.0;
2. Ioulia Nikonorova, Kanata, 17:40.0;
3. Georgette Mink, Ottawa, 17:43.2;
4. Daniele Riendeau, Ottawa, 17:51.4;
5. Jackie Bonisteel, Ottawa, 18:37.3;
6. Kelly MacDonald, Montague, Ont., 18:55.8;
7. Norma Wharton, New York City, 19:19.5;
8. Samantha Klus, Kanata, 19:27.4;
9. Nicole McTimoney, Ottawa, 19:27.7;
10. Alicia Fagan, Ottawa, 19:30.3.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen