Sunday, June 16, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Ottawa Race Weekend honours top-50 stars who impacted first 50 marathons

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By Martin Cleary

The little race that grew and grew and grew some more has turned 50 years old.

What started as the National Capital Marathon with 146 starters in 1975 and took on numerous name changes and sponsors until we know it today as the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon has reached yet another significant milestone in its up-and-down history.

More than 37,000 runners and walkers will compete Saturday and Sunday in a total of six races, which are all focused around the Ottawa City Hall start/finish line.

On Saturday, the Ottawa Kids Marathon (1.2 kilometres) presented by Maverick’s Donuts goes at 2 p.m., the Ottawa 2K and 5K races presented by ASICS Runkeeper are slated for 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. respectively and the featured Ottawa 10K presented by Otto’s Ottawa will go at 6:30 p.m.

Sunday is reserved for the endurance athletes with the starting gun for the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon sounding at 7 a.m. and the Ottawa Half Marathon presented by Desjardins going at 8:30 a.m.

In its early years, the Ottawa marathon was the largest in Canada and became the national trials race for the 1976 and 1984 Summer Olympics and the 1978 Commonwealth Games.

When Montreal organized its own marathon in the 1980s close to Ottawa’s mid-May date, registration dropped significantly as Quebec runners gravitated to the major marathon in their home province. This prompted the Canadian Track and Field Association, now Athletics Canada, to bring in rules to space out major marathons in Canada to avoid date conflicts.


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The Ottawa marathon also was once on death’s doorstep, but the running community found ways to revive the spring tradition in the capital.

When Jim Robinson became race director, the marathon and its running companion, the Nordion 10K race, were in sad shape.

But from 1996 to 2013, Robinson along with his volunteer board and committee members created more ways to attract more runners, energy and enthusiasm into a new brand called the Ottawa Race Weekend. Tens of thousands of runners flocked to Ottawa to run various races through the streets of Ottawa and Gatineau.

The year after Robinson stepped down as race director and was replaced by four-time 10K winner John Halvorsen, Ottawa Race Weekend exploded with a record runner registration of 48,000 in 2014.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the sporting world, in-person road races were replaced by virtual runs, where runners could register, design their own course and submit a time.

Coming out of COVID-19, the Ottawa Race Weekend has slowly regained its footing. Registration for the 2024 marathon and half-marathon was closed well before this weekend and organizers will celebrate their 50th anniversary with numbers approaching 40,000.

The Ottawa marathon continues to be one of the most respected 42.195-kilometre races in the world because thousands of people cared to devote time, energy and ideas to making it a great runner-based event.

As a way to recognize the people who have significantly impacted the marathon over the past six decades through their tireless dedication, hard work and passion for marathon running, Ottawa Race Weekend organizers introduced a program Friday called 50 Stars for 50 Years.

50 Stars ceremony at the Aberdeen Pavilion. Photo: @OttawaRaceWknd X

The list pays tribute to past and present marathon runners, volunteers, fund raisers, racing staff, a sponsor and one coach. Each honouree received a commemorative coin for their selection.

Here are the Top 50 by categories:

MARATHON RUNNERS

Rick Ball – Broke the marathon world record for a single-leg amputee runner, when he ran two hours, 57 minutes, 48 seconds in the 2010 Ottawa marathon;

Alain Bordeleau – The Quebec runner had a podium finish at the 1984 Olympic trials and represented Canada at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics with Dave Edge and Art Boileau;

Gord Christie – A three-time champion in three consecutive years, he placed first in 1988 in 2:18:40, 1989 in 2:14:33 and 1990 in 2:18:38;

Denis Bouillon – For a period spanning three decades, he has been a part of the Ottawa Race Weekend 10 times, running the 5K and 10K races between 1997 and 2011 before graduating to the half-marathon in 2022, 2023 and again this year;

Dr. Howard Cohen and John Stoddard – Despite their respective ages of 74 and 84, all kinds of weather challenges and injuries, Cohen and Stoddard have run the first 49 Ottawa marathons and are planning to be on the start line for their 50th on Sunday;

David Daze – The retired Ottawa elementary school teacher ran his first Ottawa marathon in 2001 and hasn’t missed one since, whether in-person or virtual. He’s well prepared for No. 24;

Bruce Deacon – In his fourth and final Ottawa marathon, the two-time Olympian scored his first victory in 2000 at 2:17:12.5. He also was second overall in 2001 and 2002 with his best-time coming in the later race at 2:15:46;

Jacqueline Gareau – In her second year as a marathoner, she won the 1979 women’s title at the Ottawa marathon in 2:47:58. It was a springboard to her 1980 Boston Marathon victory in 2:34:28;

Dorothy Goertzen Quale – A time of 2:40:59 allowed her to win the Ottawa marathon women’s title in 1987;

John Halvorsen – A two-time Olympian for Norway, the Ottawa runner won the 10K race in 1988, 1991, 1992 and 1995 and owned the race record of 28:12 from his first win for 21 years. He also served as race director from 2013-19;

Maryse Jacob – The Shediac, N.B., runner is moving up to the marathon this year, after winning the women’s 75-79 half-marathon age class at 2:44:49 in 2023;

Tania Jones – Originally from Maple, ON., she had second-place finishes in the Ottawa marathon women’s race in 1999 at 2:48:26, 2000 in 2:40:09 and 2002 in 2:39:17;

Cheryl Kardish Levitan – In the early days of the Ottawa marathon, she was a familiar face in the 42.195-kilometre race and will continue her Ottawa Race Weekend tradition by walking the marathon distance on Sunday. She also has run the 10K race in the past;

Richard Marsolais – A visually-impaired runner, he ran the 10K in 1997 and followed with an assortment of 5K and 10K races and half-marathons over the past 26 years. He’s planning to run another half-marathon on Sunday;

Celia McInnis – A dedicated competitive cyclist, she made her marathon debut in the 1983 Ottawa marathon and scored an impressive women’s victory in 2:54:13;

Kinsley Middleton – Growing up in the United States with dual Canadian-American citizenship, she won the women’s Ottawa marathon race in 2022 in 2:30:09 and became the first Canadian woman to place first since 2007;

Joseph Nderitu – The Kenyan distance runner owned the Ottawa marathon for three consecutive years, winning the men’s title in 2001 in 2:15:50.5, 2002 in 2:14:04.0 and 2003 in 2:15:29.2;

Mehdi Jaouhar – As a University of Ottawa masters student, he entered the inaugural National Capital Marathon in 1975 to help his friend Rich Pyne. He ended up winning the race in 2:26:39, while Pyne, who suffered cramps at the 29-kilometre mark, placed second. It was Jaouhar’s only marathon;

Louise Rachlis – A dedicated, multi-distance runner, she has written many stories about the Ottawa Race Weekend, including content for special supplements in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper;

Silvia Ruegger – Racing in her first-ever marathon, she won the women’s race at the 1984 Olympic trials in a world debut record and Ottawa marathon record time of 2:30:37. Her Ottawa race record stood for 22 years until it was broken by Lyudmila Korchagina in 2006 at 2:29:42;

Mark Sutcliffe – The Ottawa mayor has competed in a career 11 Ottawa Race Weekend races, including five marathons. On the heels of his recent London Marathon, he plans to run his sixth Ottawa marathon Sunday. He also is an avid fund raiser and wrote the book Canada’s Magnificent Marathon to celebrate the marathon’s 40th anniversary;

Eleanor Thomas – At a time when women’s marathon running wasn’t popular, she was the women’s champion in the first two races. She finished the 1975 Ottawa marathon in 3:27:28 and improved to 3:09:27 during the 1976 Olympic trials race.

Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe speaks to the 50 Stars crowd at the Aberdeen Pavilion. Photo: @_MarkSutcliffe X

VOLUNTEERS

Hilda Beauregard, Xtra Mile Club

Dennis Ferris

Ingrid Koenig

Karen Lawrence, medical team

Gavin Lumsden

Judy Piel

Christophe Rene

Derek Rogers

Ken Trischuk

Bob Woods

Andrew Press and Karen Snyder, Team LiquidGym

FUND RAISERS

Michael Baine

Erin Beasley

Peggy Hickman

Sindy Hooper

Geordie McConnell

Andrew Frank and Roberta Driscoll, PIPR

OTTAWA RACE WEEKEND STAFF

Joe DuVall – director of operations, 2007-23

Ian Fraser – race director, 2019-24

Ken Parker – National Capital Marathon co-founder, race director 1975-85, race participant

Glendon Pye – race course co-ordinator

Jim Robinson – race director, 1996-2013

Manny Rodriguez – Run Ottawa elite runner co-ordinator, 2001-13

Mark Wigmore – Pace bunny program organizer, 2008 to present

Dave Yeager – Run Ottawa course measurer

SPONSOR

Chris Taggart

COACH

Annie Cree

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 51 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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