Taking run at a record

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:00 PM ET

A glance at the record book, and it hits you like a slap in the face.

There are a lot of Canadian records in senior men’s track and field that have been around for a while — probably too long. But the men’s marathon record, well, that’s another story.

Thirty five years ago this December, Toronto’s Jerome Drayton captured the prestigious Fukuoka Marathon in Japan in 2:10.09. That time is now the oldest record in the books, by far.

“I’m sure Jerome says it’s about time the record was broken, and if anybody has the credentials to break it, it’s Simon Bairu,” said Alex Gardiner, the head coach at Athletics Canada.

For a guy who has never actually run a marathon, the buzz around Bairu breaking Drayton’s mark is profound. Then again, there have been few distance runners of Bairu’s calibre who have come up through the Canadian system in a long while.

This year, the 26-year-old Regina runner broke Jeff Schiebler’s nine-year Canadian mark in the 10,000 (27:36.01), in a time of 27:23.63. He also won the event at the Canadian championships Wednesday. He also finished 13th at the world cross country championships in Poland — the highest finish of any non-African born runner — and won the Rock&Roll Arizona Half Marathon.

On Nov.7, Bairu will run in the famed New York City Marathon and though it’s his first race at that distance, he believes the marathon will ultimately prove to be his best event, by a wide margin.

“I think this is the event I’ll have the best chance to medal in at the Olympics,” said Bairu, on the phone from his training base in Portland, Ore.

Though he’s the Canadian record holder in the 10,000, Bairu feels that he doesn’t have the closing speed, the late kick, to be one of the best in the world in the event. But the marathon, he said, is a different story.

“If you look at my career, I’ve always excelled on the road and in cross country, way more than on the track,” he said. “Of course, nothing’s guaranteed in sport. New York could be a horrible disaster. But I’m very confident. The marathon makes logical sense, because I have the basic strength capacity to race with the best of them.”

Gardiner has no doubt that, given his ability and dedication, Bairu will break Drayton’s record and eventually establish himself as one of the top marathoners in the world.

“He’s the real deal for sure,” said Gardiner. “You consider his finish at the world cross country championships against all the Ethiopians, the Moroccans, and others who do distance running like we play hockey.”

Bairu’s plan is a simple one, to progress in the marathon to such extent that he is in a position to win a medal at the 2012 London Olympics, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And, of course, if that happens, Drayton’s long-time record will eventually fall — though the record is not Bairu’s main motivation. It’s about winning medals for Canada.

“I can’t really talk about wanting to win a medal at the next Olympics if I can’t break 2:10,” Bairu said. “I think it’s just a matter of time.”

If not in New York, then down the road. Actually, Bairu believes that two other Canadians — Reid Coolsaet of Hamilton, who set a personal best in the marathon last year in Berlin (2:16.53), and Eric Gillis of Antigonish, N.S., both have a chance to break Drayton’s mark.

“The marathon hasn’t been our strongest event in Canada, but definitely that’s changing,” Bairu said. “I’m confident that three guys will be lining up for the marathon for the next Olympics.”

Actually, Bairu’s motivation is to win medals for Canada and his parents. His dad, Yehdego, is Ethiopian, and his mom, Abeba, Eritrean. For years, Eritrea fought for independence from Ethiopia and eventually the two nations went to war.

“They were from different sides of the war, so obviously, it was better for them to live somewhere else,” Bairu said.

The couple moved from Africa to Saudi Arabia, where Simon was born in 1983, and then to Greece. When Simon was 3, they came to Canada, where the culture and climate threw them for a major loop, not to mention the fact that their home was robbed a couple of weeks after arriving.

“After my parents got here, at least four or five times they decided that we should move back,” he said.

Bairu gets emotional talking about the sacrifices his parents made for him, as well as his younger brother Bill and his sister Shewit.

“That’s why my parents have always been the only heros in my life,” he said. “They’re my inspiration. They took a big gamble to uproot me and my sister to Canada and it paid off. Moving to a foreign country, not speaking the language, leaving almost everything behind and coming here ... They didn’t know anything about Canada. They just wanted a better opportunity for their kids.

“That’s why I always think about them when I’m training,” added Bairu, who believes his best chance for a medal might by in 2016. “Your peak years for the marathon are the early 30s. “So I’ll have to be patient. You earn your stripes slowly.”


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