Taking the lead just past the three-kilometre mark, Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta ran away from a strong women’s field at the Ottawa 10k, winning the IAAF Gold Label road race in 31:35 on Saturday (27).
Among the vanquished was heavily favoured Kenyan Paskalia Chepkorir who struggled home second in 32:08 with Monica Ngige, also of Kenya, taking third place in 32:46.
Given the warm conditions – it was 23C at the 6:30pm start – it was a bold display of front running by the 26-year-old Ethiopian but she had an additional incentive to run hard from the front as the race offers a $4000 bonus to the first runner, man or woman, to cross the finish line.
The elite women were given a head start of three minutes and 10 seconds over the men’s field. Gudeta’s compatriot Leul Gebresilase gave chase but fell a mere eight seconds short of catching her as he won the men’s race in 28:43. They hugged at the finish and were wrapped in an Ethiopian flag by supporters.
“I am extremely happy for winning the race,” said Gudeta. “I was confident from the beginning and I had the feeling that I was going to be ahead of the men.”
Several times over the final few kilometres she checked her wrist watch – she passed 5km in 15:50 – and turned around to see who was in pursuit. Clearly she had destroyed the Kenyan challenge early on but it wasn’t the women she was concerned about.
“It helped that I had to run very fast so I could compete with the men, to be ahead of them,” she said.
“I had to keep checking who was behind me, how I was doing. That was all I was doing. I was more concerned about the men. Once I left the (Kenyan) ladies, I didn't have much concern about them. My concern was with the men.”
Victory in the women’s race earned her $8000 in addition to the gender bonus. Chepkorir, who has a best 10km time of 30:57, just two seconds slower than the Ottawa course record (30:55 by Gladys Cherono in 2015), collects $4000 for finishing in the runner-up position while Ngige will earn $3000.
“When I was starting the race I thought I would win,” said Chepkorir. “I got to around 5km and I had a problem in my throat, so I reduced the pace. I have allergies. When I came here I got the allergies. I was sneezing.
“I was not looking back I listened to the men coming from behind. And I heard Monica. I knew I would be number two. I am very happy.”
The men’s race had suffered with the last-minute withdrawals of 2012 winner Geoffrey Mutai due to injury and defending champion Mohammed Ziana because of passport problems. Last year’s runner-up, Yitayal Atnafu of Ethiopia, also cancelled with an injury.
But once the gun was fired, the remainder of the elite entrants got down to business and the absence of the pre-race favourites was largely forgotten.
It was Nicholas Bor, the 2015 Ottawa champion, who charged out to an early lead in the men’s race. For the past two years he has battled injuries and treated Ottawa as a comeback race. Within three kilometres, the pack had whittled down to three. The 24-year-old Gebresilase, who has a personal best of 28:12, followed closely alongside USA’s Marty Hehir of the Northern Arizona Elite Club. The trio passed half way in 14:29, but when the Ethiopian surged at 8 kilometres it was a decisive move.
“I was looking straight ahead to Netsanet; in the last kilometres she was very strong,” Gebresilase said. “But I am very happy that Ethiopians won both the competitions today. This race is very good, very well organised.”
Hehir was delighted with his performance, crossing the finish line second in 29:05. A graduate of Syracuse University, he has been training in Flagstaff, Arizona, since graduation two years ago and earlier this spring he recorded a 10,000m PB of 28:08.60. Bor, meanwhile, finished in 29:33, a victim of both the Ethiopian’s dramatic surge and the heat.
“I was definitely aiming for at least the top five so I know I was able to be up there,” said Hehir. “Training has been going well. This was essentially the race I was peaking for and I wanted to give it a shot and I did so.
“The reason Bor dropped is because the guy who won put in a huge surge so I was barely hanging on as well. I wasn't thinking too much except for the pain of it all. But I was pretty happy when I saw that Bor broke hard.”
Although he had felt faint at one point in the race, around the time Gebresilase surged, Bor was pleased with his performance. He collects $3000 for third place.