By Paul Gains
Seven and a half months is an unusually short period to enjoy the rewards of a Canadian 10k championship title, but both Ben Flanagan from Kitchener, Ontario and Leslie Sexton from London, Ontario will now defend their 2021 crowns on May 28th, 2022, at the Ottawa 10k presented by Otto’s Ottawa.
Owing to COVID restrictions - which delayed in-person racing - the Athletics Canada Canadian Championships were held in October 2021 in Toronto rather than in Ottawa last May. Flanagan raced to a 28:42 victory on the waterfront and Sexton, although crossing the line second on the day, was also crowned national champion.
Scottish guest runner Sarah Inglis finished first but was ineligible for the prize money and the title. Sexton, who has relocated to Vancouver following several years in Kingston, Ontario, ran a personal best of 32:04. A month later she significantly lowered her best marathon time to 2:28:35 when she won the Philadelphia Marathon.
A photo finish in the men’s race?
This time around Flanagan will face stiff competition from not only Luc Bruchet, a two-time Canadian Olympian at 5,000m, but also from Rory Linkletter, who is having a stellar season.
After breaking the Canadian Half Marathon record with a 1:01:08 clocking in Houston on January 16th – and finishing 20 seconds ahead of Flanagan – Linkletter ran 28:43 at the Cooper River Ridge Run 10k on April 2nd. In between those fine performances, he confirmed he has the speed to match Flanagan with an indoor 3,000m personal best of 7:49.13. That was recorded in Louisville, Kentucky on February 12th.
Linkletter, who lives and trains in Flagstaff, Arizona, parted ways with Hoka’s Northern Arizona Elite group last December to train with American marathon great Ryan Hall.
Bruchet was runner-up in that 2021 Toronto championship race with a time of 28:49. On April 24th, the 31-year-old from Vancouver set a new personal best of 28:29 in winning the Vancouver Sun Run 10k, which is a result that should cause Flanagan some concern.
Complicating his title defense a little further, Flanagan is coming back from six weeks rehabilitation on a broken toe. But with a month of solid running, he surprised many by successfully completing a 1,500m/5,000m double at the Jesse Owens Track Classic in Ohio. He ran 3:44.98 and 14:10.07 with just ninety minutes between.
Since February, Flanagan has been living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, having left the Reebok Boston Track Club, which was based in Charlottesville, Virginia. The move reunited him with his University of Michigan coach, Ron Warhurst, the man who coached him to the 2018 NCAA 10,000m title.
Depending upon weather conditions, the winner may well challenge the Canadian record of 28:17, which has been held by Paul McCloy since 1987. Victory, however, and the $6,000 prize money will be foremost on the minds of this trio.
Canadian women continue to chase a 23-year Canadian record
In the women’s race, Leslie Sexton will once again face Kingston’s Cleo Boyd who claimed the silver medal in Toronto. Boyd, a graduate of the University of Virginia, ran her personal best of 33:21 there. More recently, she won the 2022 Aspire Wine 10k (March 5th) in 33:26, a great indicator of her fitness.
Sexton, it must be mentioned, just won the 2022 Vancouver Sun Run 10k in 32:37 so is in form.
A late addition to the field is Malindi Elmore, the Canadian marathon record holder (2:24:50) who finished 11th in the recent Boston Marathon. Her decision to line up in Ottawa came only after she was sure recovery from her effort there - she ran 2:27:58 in Boston - was complete. Always competitive, she will be a likely medal contender. Her personal best of 32:44 came in 2019.
Natasha Wodak, now 40, a two-time Canadian Olympian also recently confirmed she will race the distance. In 2019, she, along with Ottawa Elite Athlete Coordinator Dylan Wykes, were crowned Canadian 10k champion here.
Seven months ago, Wodak took the bronze at the 2021 10K championships after finishing a splendid 13th in the Olympic marathon. How well she does here will depend on her recovery from her recent Boston Marathon performance. She finished 19th there in a disappointing time of 2:35:08.
Lynn Kanuka (Williams), the 1984 Olympic 3,000m bronze medalist, who coached Wodak until choosing to retire from elite level coaching, has held the Canadian 10k record since 1989. At 31:44, it remains a target that might be just out of reach for the top Canadian women. Or is it?
Once again, the Ottawa 10k will hold its unique ‘gender competition’. The women’s elite racers will be given a still to be determined head start (it was 3 minutes 40 seconds at the last live event in 2019) on the men. The first woman or man to cross the finish line will receive a $1,000 bonus. The excitement as the gap is closed adds to the drama of this event.
Without international competitors at this year’s Ottawa 10K presented by Otto’s Ottawa, the course records of Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga who ran 27:24 in 2009 and Kenya’s Gladys Cherono (30:56 set in 2015) are simply beyond expectations this year.
For Ben Flanagan and Leslie Sexton, the extension of their titles by twelve months would be a desirable outcome.
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