Toronto, Canada – With defending Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon champion Sheron Cherop representing Kenya at the 2011 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Daegu, Korea, the women’s STWM race ought to be wide open. But nobody needs to tell Mare Dibaba that.
The 21-year-old Ethiopian has been on a tear since her debut Marathon in Rome in March 2010 where she ran 2:25:38. Seven months later she improved her best time to 2:25:27 in Frankfurt placing fifth in an impressive field. Sandwiched in between were victories in her first two races on North American soil – the Bobby Crim 10 miler and the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon.
It’s abundantly clear she has the potential to do something special in Toronto on 16 October. The race is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race which is the reason it is attracting such prestigious runners.
“I am expecting to run between 2:22 and 2:23 if I have a good pacemaker,” says the young lady who, it should be noted, holds the Ethiopian national record in the Half Marathon (1:07:13). “I am looking for a good time so I can go to the London Olympics.”
Under the watchful eye of coach Haji Adilo – himself a 2:12:24 marathoner – she has been piling on the mileage, reaching as much as 200 kilometres each week. All of it is run in the thin air of Addis Ababa where the elevation is 2500m above sea level. For a petite woman who stands 1.60m (5’3”) tall that’s an incredible volume.
The training group has grown to about 80 athletes, men and women, among them a pair of Boston Marathon champions, Deriba Merga, (2009 men’s champion) and Dire Tune (2008 women’s champion). Many of them share residences in the city to save on living expenses.
“I am living with my fiance, Marcos,” Dibaba reveals. “He is a runner too. He ran 2:17 in his first Marathon.”
Dibaba is one of five children born to farmers in the village of Sululta about 25km from the capital. Though her early life was typical of rural Ethiopians she is not one to complain. And, contrary to the wishful thinkers who would love it if she was yet another one of the siblings of double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, she is not. But she does count Tirunesh, as well as two-time Olympic 10,000m champion, Haile Gebrselassie, as her running heroes.
A school teacher introduced her to running in 2005 and very quickly it was clear she had talent. Two years ago she joined up with Haji to focus on road races and the Marathon in particular.
She temporarily represented Azerbaijan at the 2009 Delhi Half Marathon under the name Mare Ibrahimova.
Earlier this year Dibaba lined up as favourite to win the Los Angeles Marathon. When she could only manage a third place finish in 2:30:25 questions were raised about her condition. However, it seems that the windy and rainy conditions that day didn’t agree with her and because of her tiny size, she took a beating.
Last year coach Haji Adoli accompanied some of his athletes to Toronto and had a first hand look at the course. Naturally Dibaba is acutely aware that the course is extremely flat and therefore conducive to fast times.
“Of course, yes, I am ready to run as fast as possible,” she declares. “I will do some good training with my coach and I want to run the Olympic standard and then I can be selected for the Olympics.”
With such bold ambitions and with years of running ahead of her Dibaba has not stopped to think what she might do once her career comes to a close.
“For the time being my main goal is running, running, running,” she declares. “Then I will decide my age of retirement. I want to run the fastest time and win Olympic and World Championships.”
But first, there’s the matter of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF