By Paul Gains
Canada sent three male marathoners to the 2012 Olympics and with the qualifying period for Rio 2016 having opened in January there is speculation that three men will toe the line in Rio next year.
Just who will wear the maple leaf, however, is the big question.
The standard of 2 hours 12 minutes 50 seconds will take some doing. Two members of the Newmarket Huskies have made the commitment to achieving it and to realising a dream of representing Canada at the highest level.
Matt Loiselle and his training partner Sami Jibril will begin their buildup towards the 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon next month. They both feel that Canadaís pre eminent marathon, which is the countryís only IAAF Gold Label marathon, is the venue to produce their lofty goal.
Loiselle has a best of 2:16:01 from the 2011 Toronto event. A professional coach when heís not putting in the miles, he understands that this time is a far cry from the standard. Nevertheless, he believes it is possible.
"I think so," he declares. "I have got up to about 30k at 2:12 pace. Both times that I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon I got to 30k at 2:12 flat pace. Thatís when the pacemaker dropped out.
"I know the things I need to work on now and I will talk to (Coach) Hugh (Cameron) about it and make some adjustments and compare to previous buildups. If you look at my best half marathon time, which is under 1:04, I think itís doable. I just believe in myself and I believe we will get good training in. And, it will help having Sami there too. If I didnít believe it was possible I wouldn't be really going for it. It has always been the goal."
The 30 year old has represented Canada twice before, most recently at the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon championships where he placed 55th in 1:04:59. He is fully aware that he and Jibril might well be fighting for one place.
Already Reid Coolsaet, a 2012 Olympian at this distance, has achieved the standard by running 2:11:24 in Rotterdam this past April. And Eric Gillis ran a personal best in Toronto last October with 2:11:21 albeit before the qualifying period. Both he and Coolsaet are good bets to return to the Olympic race and, with only three to qualify, it leaves the Newmarket Huskies pair chasing one place.
"I totally expect that, actually," Loiselle continues. "I think it will similar to what it was in 2012 probably under 2:12 (will be required). Look at Gillis. He is running as well as he ever has. Reid had a good one in Rotterdam. And you can never really count Dylan (Wykes) out. Who knows who might be able to come out and surprise? I would be surprised if 2:12:50 did get you in actually."
And this leads to the question what if he makes the team and Jibril is left behind? How would he feel about that?
"Yes, if I knocked him off the team it would hurt him and if he knocks me off the team it would hurt me," he says laughing. "Itís 42.2k and we have the same goal. Obviously if he makes the team and I didnít I would be happy for him."
"Itís kind of funny. I had a talk to a group of grade sixes yesterday. One guy asked me ĎAre all the guys youíre running against enemies?' And I said well ĎI guess when you start on the line you are enemies and then afterwards you respect each another and you can be friends. But we all have the same goals we want to beat each other.í"
Jibril, now 25, first came to national attention when he won the 2013 Harryís Spring Run Off in Torontoís High Park. That victory surprised many. At the time he was more attuned to running on the track and used road racing to break up the routine of winter training. Since then he has become a consistent road racer. A year ago he took the silver medal at the Canadian Half Marathon Championships hanging on to Eric Gillis for most of the race.
"That is a tactic that I do once in a while 'dying to success' as Coach Hugh calls it," Jibril reveals. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't but in that race I had one option to run with Eric or separate early. I committed and it was a good run. I ran a huge personal best by 90 seconds. I definitely get good results off of that.
"I think that was a perfect tactic. I donít think I could have run faster if I didnít go with Eric. The way he runs helped me out because he goes out so evenly paced, and conservative. He definitely helped me over 15 or 16k, however far we went together. It was obvious more than three quarters of the race."
Born in Rome, Jibril is the son of Somali-Ethiopian parents who fled the strife in that region of East Africa. He was a mediocre runner at Heart Lake Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario but under Hugh Cameronís guidance has developed well these past three years. Loiselle speaks highly of their partnership.
"When I first met him he barely said a word," Loiselle says with a laugh. "I thought he was pretty shy. So I had to gradually try to get him out of his shell. Now he will actually come and hang out. We have a group of friends who will go out for a drink or for dinner and so we are starting to socialize more.
"At least three times a week we train together we do our intervals Tuesday and Friday and a long run on Sunday. Today I ran into him on our easy day - we run the same places. He is a great guy to train with. No ĎBSí we get along and we talk about anything really when we are running. I enjoy training with him."
For his part Jibril points out that when he first began training with Loiselle he was working the graveyard shift at the Toronto Transit Commission as a mechanic and barely had any time to socialise. Now he works the 3pm to 11pm shift and has weekends off. The pair train at 7:00 a.m. usually.
This year the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is also the official Athletics Canada National Championship Marathon so there is added incentive for the top Canadians to contest the race. Both Jibril and Loiselle hope they run fast enough to earn a place on the Rio bound Olympic team for that would be a dream come true.