By Lynne Bermel
Time has flown. Unfortunately, the Canadian runners haven’t.
In fact, it’s been 31 years since Toronto’s Jerome Drayton set the Canadian marathon record in two hours, 10 minutes and eight seconds in Fukuoka, Japan.
Sylvia Reugger’s 2:28:36 has stood as the women’s record for more than two decades, although Russian-born Lioudmila Kortchaguina came within a minute and change to breaking it last May at the ING Ottawa marathon, which also serves as the Canadian Championships.
“Elite marathoning in Canada is probably at an all-time low,” says Manny Rodrigues, ING Ottawa Marathon Vice President. “Going back 10 years, if [a male runner] ran 2:20, he might have been lucky to be in the top 10. Now if you go under 2:20, you’re one of the top three.”
Canada didn’t qualify a runner for either the men’s or women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympics and our men haven’t qualified for either last two World Championships either.
Why has Canada fallen so far off the pace? Many would argue it is the result of years of inadequate government funding, lack of corporate sponsorship and, overall, a declining interest in running’s ultimate test.
Oh, and yes, the African equation.
Two of the world’s best distance runners have acknowledged that’s an issue too. Kenya’s Paul Tergat and Ethiopia’s Haile Gebresellasie told Reuters this March that the domination of distance runners from their countries is threatening to kill international interest in the sport altogether.
Brothers Mike and Paul Dyon, co-founders and co-owners of the Brooks shoe empire, know they aren’t going to change the African domination. But they believe they can do something about getting top Canadian marathoners to the finish line a lot faster. And they’re going to put their money where their mouths are.
They have started the “Brooks Canada Marathon Project,” along with top Canadian marathon coach, Hugh Cameron. They hope their revolutionary program will breathe life into the state of elite marathoning in Canada and finally put the sport back on solid footing.
In fact, they’ve made a commitment to the tune of $1,500,000 over six years. They’re also setting up a house in the Toronto area where athletes can live, eat, sleep and train.
Under the program, athletes that qualify will receive free housing, coaching and part-time work at the Brook’s Mississauga warehouse store. On top of that, team members can keep any government funding (which can be anywhere from $500 to $1,100 a month) and any prize money they win, and Brooks will also kick in extra bonuses for good performances.
Right now they’re on a recruiting drive to find 5-10 men and women with the “potential and passion” to represent Canada at the Olympics or a World Championships in next 2-6 years.
“Canada has the talent. It’s just a matter of getting athletes together and feeding off each other. That’s the synergy of the workhouse concept,” says Mike who is a four-time Canadian champion himself.
They’ve already seen it work. In fact, they’ve modeled the program off the Brook-Hanson project in the U.S., which, was started by brothers Kevin and Keith Hanson. The Hansons now have three “workhouses” and a stable of over 20 elite athletes in Detroit area.
Their athletes have yet to win a major marathon but they are already achieving inspiring results. They had three runners in the top 10 at Boston. “In the U.S., that’s huge,” says Mike. “We want to bring that to Canadian runners.”
While Brooks has been sponsoring amateur athletes for the past 29 years, this latest project is certainly upping the ante.
Why are they doing it?
Says Mike: “We won’t get the monetary investment back, but we’re aiming for the Olympics. We’ll have people running with our name and their chest and we’ll get the goodwill and pride as Canadians from our successes.”
We hope this also means that it won’t be another thirty years for a new Canadian record.
For information on the program contact: Hugh Cameron - 905-836-4916 / firstname.lastname@example.org.