By Paul Gains
Ethiopian marathon star Fatuma Sado returns to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in pursuit of the victory that eluded her a year ago.
Although she has won marathons in Beijing, Hamburg, Los Angeles and Warsaw she had to be content with setting a new personal best of 2:24:16 and a second place finish in Toronto last year. Clearly, she wants more on October 16th.
“Yes I was happy and I got a new best time in the marathon distance,” she says of her debut performance at this IAAF Gold Label race. “But winning is nice too.
“This year I am looking to just run a good race and use my shape now to try to win the race and be on the podium again. If it allows me to do this in a new best time then thanks to God; this is great.”
Earlier this year the 24 year old Sado – she turns 25 on October 11th, five days before the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon – ran in the Lanzhou Marathon finishing 5th in a rather slow time of 2:38:39. But she points out that the Chinese city lies 1,521 metres above sea level and the weather was extremely hot and humid in contrast to what she can expect in Toronto.
“I can run faster than 2:24,” she declares. “I am sure in my body. But in this race in Toronto we will let God decide for the race if it is fast again.”
Since her return from China she has been preparing for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon with one of the strongest training groups in Ethiopia. The group of some 100 athletes meet several times a week to do long runs in the rural areas of Sendafa and Sululta outside Addis Ababa.
Amongst her training partners are Mare Dibaba, the 2015 World Champion and bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics, Amane Gobena, winner of the 2009 Toronto Waterfront marathon who has a 2:21:51 best, and the two time Ethiopian Olympian, Meskerem Assefa.
“My shape is very good; I feel strong and healthy currently,” Sado reveals. “I train with many top women in Ethiopia under Coach Haji Adillo. I learn from them every day and we all push each other very hard in training. So training is like competition every day almost.”
At present Sado lives in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital at an elevation of 2350 metres although she arrived from her home in Arsi when she was a teenager. At elementary school she had shown promise and was encouraged to go to Addis to pursue a running career.
“My family is from Arsi Region,” she says of the area that has produced such talented athletes as Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh and Genzebe Dibaba as well as Derartu Tulu. “I was born outside of Addis Ababa; and I came to Addis after I was finished my primary school levels to pursue a training group. I was in a running club in primary school and we ran races for the club under the school name.”
Like all Ethiopians she grew up knowing the history of the nation’s distance running success. And she says the pride in these runners spilled over to her and her peers.
“Every legend of our sport from Ethiopia inspired me and still does daily and I hope I am inspiration to some young girls right now as well,” Sado declares.
Life in Addis revolves around training and recovery and she has ambitions to be amongst the very best in the world. Family and friends are important too.
“I have brothers and sisters but right now I am the only athlete,” she reveals. “I have two of my brothers living with me in Addis Ababa and they help to look after me for my training and meals and physio.
“I like the cinema, shopping and Ethiopian traditional coffee in a friend’s home. After training all athletes are very, very tired so it is difficult to see other runners.”
Each time she is reminded of her Toronto experience last year she smiles. One of the highlights was joining other Ethiopian runners, past and present, at Rendezvous Restaurant on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue for an Ethiopian dinner.
“I liked the Habesha meal very much and the people were very nice to us,” she says adding, “Toronto is very nice and beautiful to me. Maybe this time I will go to see some sights.”
The field in Toronto will be loaded with talent. Shure Demise, the 2015 Toronto champion, now 20 years old, is also returning as the favourite. Her margin of victory a year ago was a mere 39 seconds.
Sado is unlikely to allow the youngster to escape easily this time around and if the conditions are right then maybe the women’s course record of 2:22:43 held jointly by Kenya’s Sharon Cherop (2010) and Koren Jelela (2011) could be challenged. After all, this is potentially the most competitive Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in history.