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More than 20,000 runners take to the streets of downtown Toronto for the 21st annual Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Sunday September 26, 2010. (James Kachan/CNW Group)
More than 20,000 runners take to the streets of downtown Toronto for the 21st annual Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Sunday September 26, 2010. (James Kachan/CNW Group)

Marathon three-peat for Mungara Add to ...

The day sparkled, the performances sparkled more.

Under bright sun and perfect cool temperatures for running, Kenneth Mungara of Kenya won his third consecutive Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, breaking his own course record in Sunday morning stillness with the fastest time ever run on Canadian soil.

His time of 2 hours 7 minutes 57 seconds for the classic 42.195-kilometre distance was one of several outstanding performances on a day when 22,000 runners took to Toronto's streets in the marathon, half-marathon and five-kilometre tests.

In the women's race, Sharon Cherop, also of Kenya, led a parade of fast women to the wire, winning in 2:22:42 - also a race and Canadian record. The women's race stopped being the weak sister of the men's marathon, as the top three finishers in the women's race all were faster than the women's winning time at the world-class Berlin Marathon run the same morning.

On the Canadian side, Reid Coolsaet of Hamilton booked his ticket for the London 2012 Olympics, beating by seven seconds the tough qualifying standard of Athletics Canada to get on the Games squad with a time of 2:11:22, 10th place overall. Training mate Eric Gillis of Guelph, Ont., was right behind him with a personal best of 2:12.07, although he was still short of the Olympic team standard.

"I'm very, very happy. It's Canada. I am from Kenya, but this is my favourite marathon," said Mungara, 37, who just keeps getting faster as he gets older.

He broke in front of the leaders with about five kilometres to go.

The top four men - all Kenyans - were all under Mungara's previous all-comers' best for Canada (2:08:32). Countryman Jafred Chirchir, 27, was 11 seconds back of the sprinting Mungara at 2:08:09; Daniel Rono, 32, the winner in 2006, was third at 2:08:14; then came Nixon Machichim, 26, at 2:08:21. Ethiopian Gashaw Melese Asfaw, 32, was top non-Kenyan, in fifth spot at 2:08:54.

"I had to stick with the group for a long time. You can't go ahead of them," Mungara said. The pace slowed as the early front runners, hired to bring the racers along to the final few kilometres, dropped off, but Mungara picked up the slack himself.

"The pacers did a good job. It's hard to say how fast I can go, it always depends on the pacers. Now, I go home and train to see if I can get in the Olympics."

That's easier said than done. In the 21st century, 500 Kenyans in a year run the marathon distance in about 2:10.

"I love Toronto. I will be here again if Alan [Brookes, the race director] wants to invite me. This race is becoming big."

Brookes, who has been organizing races since 1983, said his "biggest challenge is who on Earth do I bring in to Toronto who can beat Kenneth? Canada deserves to be known as the home of a major-city marathon, and this has become it, with athletes and managers who have believed in us and our ability to run a world-class race."

Cherop, whose walk was very wobbly after winning by two seconds over Ethiopian Tirfi Tsegaye, said she "prayed and prayed" as she was coming in. Now, she goes home to a position with the Kenyan military and will represent the nation in a cross-country race.

Coolsaet, 31, said he was happy to have the Olympic qualification off his shoulders "and now I can work on the 2:10," he said. referring to the 35-year old Canadian native mark of 2:10:08 held by Jerome Drayton.

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