TORONTO. September 8th. Thornhill, Ontario's Lioudmila Kortchaguina, the current Canadian Women's Marathon Champion, is confirmed to start at the 20th Anniversary Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on September 27th. She will line up as a serious contender amongst the strongest Women's and Men's fields put together for "Canada's fastest marathon". "We're just delighted to have Lioudmila on the line," said Race Director Alan Brookes. "She's having a great year, and with some good, hometown crowd support she's really in there with a great chance against the Africans and Eastern Europeans."
It's been a long, hard, marathon road for the 38 year old Kortchaguina. She began running in her native Yekaterinberg, Russia, in the early 1990s, as part of the highly-organized, professional and driven Soviet athletics system. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lioudmila, husband/coach Ilia and daughter Polina, finally emigrated to Canada in April 2001. After strong performances in Pittsburgh [2:29:53] and Hartford in 2003, Lioudmila won the hometown race at STWM'04 in 2:36:52. They became citizens in 2005 and three Canadian National Championships followed with victories at the Ottawa Marathon. 2006 was an especially strong year. Lioudmila ran for Canada at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and placed 6th in the marathon in March; she then won Ottawa in a new PR of 2:29:43 in May -- just a minute shy of Silvia Ruegger's National Record of 2:28:36 set in 1985. She won Ottawa again in May 2007 in 2:31:57. Then came two years of frustrating injuries. Unable to race in 2007/08, Lioudmila lost her manager, her adidas Global sponsorship, her Athletics Canada funding, and Ilia lost his engineering job over the past winter as the Recession bit deep.
Just as everyone was writing her off, Lioudmila stormed back to form with a great run in Houston in January '09, in 2:30:43, good for 3rd. She then followed this up with yet another National title in Ottawa in May in 2:32:10. Given the family's financial challenges, Lioudmila felt compelled to turn down the opportunity to represent Canada at the World Championships in Berlin last month, being forced to focus on a big-city, big-paying Fall marathon. With Scotiabank offering additional $25,000 cash bonuses for new Canadian Women's and Men's national records, Lioudmila is hoping a strong field can help pull her along to a sub 2:28:36 and hopefully one of the top placings. That could make for a $40,000+ pay day.
Kortchaguina will have to be at her best on Sept. 27th , however, to get on the podium and come close to Ruegger's 24 year old National Record. In the pre-race odds, she's listed at 15-1; favourites Lydia Cheromei of Kenya, defending champ Mulu Seboka and Amane Gobena of Ethiopia, are at 7-2, 9-2 and 4-1, respectively. An experienced veteran, Cheromiei made her marathon debut at Amsterdam last October and won in 2:25:57. Seboka set a new Course Record at STWM '08 with a 2:29:06, and Gobena was 2nd at Los Angeles in May in 2:26:53 after being beaten by Kortchaguina in Houston where she faded to 5th in 2:32:07. Rounding out the strong women's contenders are Ethiopian Haile Kebebush [6-1], who ran 2:28:08 for 3rd at Rome in March; last year's 2nd place finisher on Toronto's Waterfront, Olena Shurkhno of Ukraine [10-1], who won Rock 'n' Roll Arizona in January; and Russian Nataliya Volgina [15-1], who is herself coming back from injury after a PR of 2:27:32 set in Paris in 2006.
If this year's women's race at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon has talent, then the Men's field is stacked with both quality and depth. "By far the best we've had," says Brookes. In addition to last year's returning champion, Kenneth Mungara of Kenya [8-1], who won a thrilling sprint to the line in 2:11:01, the lead pack contains Ethiopians Gashaw Melese Asfaw [5-2] and Chala Lemi [11-2], plus Kenyans Daniel Kiprugut Too [4-1], Joseph Maregu [5-1], Luka Chelimo [15-2], Philip Manyim [10-1], Sammy Mwangi [15-1], Elias Sang [15-1] and Philomen Rotich [15-1].
The group provides a great combination of experience, and highly-talented up-and-comers for which Toronto Waterfront has developed an international reputation over the past few years. Anchoring the Men's race is 31-year old Ethiopian, Gashaw Malese Asfaw, who was 6th at Boston this year, and 4th last year. Inbetween, he was 7th in the Beijing Olympic Marathon, and set a new course record in Shanghai of 2:09:28 in November. He recalls Beijing: "This Olympic Marathon was one of the toughest and had probably one of the best fields ever, so I can say I'm proud to be among the top 10 in the world on that given day." He ran his PR of 2:08:03 in winning Paris in 2006, and is a consistent, top performer running two or three marathons a year. Just 22 years old, fellow Ethiopian Chala Lemi should provide a good partner for Melese against the large Kenyan lead pack. Lemi, who trains with Coach Haji Adilo in Addis, ran 2:09:36 in Seoul last November and 2:10:01 in Daegu, Korea, this Spring.
Philip Manyim and Daniel Kiprugut Too provide the experience and leadership for the Kenyan contingent. Manyim won Berlin in 2005 in his best time of 2:07:41. More recently, the 31-year old veteran ran 2:09:31 in Eindhoven last Fall, then held onto 2:07:17 winner, Benjamin Kiptoo, in Rome for 35km this March. After several years of mediocre marathons, Daniel Kiprugut Too stormed to a 2:08:38 in Paris in April.
Equally promising are the exciting group of young talents who will toe the Start line in this year's Men's race at Toronto Waterfront. Joseph Maregu ran his marathon debut in Vienna in April, a 2:09:25, after notching six sub-61 minute half marathons, including a best of 59:45 [Lille 2007]. Sammy Mwangi will be on marathon debut in Toronto, coming off a sizzling 59:55 Half in Berlin in April. Philomen Rotich, who trains with STWM06 winner [plus 3rd NYC08 and 2nd Boston09] Daniel Rono in Iten, will be running his second race over 42.195km after a very promising first-outing in Rome -- a 2:10:26 for 6th, passing Manyim in the late stages. Other young athletes include Kenyans Luka Chelimo -- 2nd to Benjamin Kiptoo in Beijing City Marathon last Fall in 2:10:30; and Elijah Sang, with two 2:10s run in Frankfurt the past two autumns; plus Ethiopians Alemayehew Shumwe and Dagim Getnet. After "obliterating" the course record in Beirut last November [2:12:47], the 21-year old Shumwe said, "I started because of Haile. I want to be like him." Brimming with confidence after 3 marathons and 3 wins last year, he'll get his chance to run with the big boys on September 27th. Veteran Ukrainian, Mykola Antonenko, who is coming off a 2:10:54 PR in Prague in May adds further to this year's intriguing mix.
"We've never had anything like a field as deep as this year's Men's Race," said Brookes. "With so many young talents on the line, plus a core of consistent, strong veterans, we're hoping for good things. We certainly hope both Women and Men can take a run at the Canadian All-comers Records of 2:26:01 [Lidia Simon, Edmonton 2001] and the 2:09:30 John Kelai set at STWM07. With Scotiabank offering $25,000 additional cash bonuses for new records, it's a great incentive. Wouldn't it be great for the 20th Anniversary if we could get both?"
A complete Start List of all Professional Athletes, with bios and odds is available as part of this year's "FAN590 Pick the Champions" contest at www.torontowaterfrontmarathon.com.
MaraFANS are encouraged to make their selections for the top 3 Men's & Women's placings. The winner will win 2 airline tickets to the UK with Canadian Affair. The contest is free and open from September 7th to 7am on Race Day, Sunday September 27th.
PHOTOS: Lioudmila Kortchaguina, Amane Gobena & Joseph Maregu, Chala Lemi