Trevor Hofbauer and Dayna Pidhoresky were the top Canadian male and female finishers at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday, securing automatic berths for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Hofbauer, from Calgary, won his second Canadian marathon championship in three years and unseated Cam Levins, who finished third among Canadian men in 2:15:01. In his debut marathon a year ago in Toronto, Levins clocked 2:09.25 to break Jerome Drayton's 43-year-old national record.
"My training going into this was absolutely perfect and I couldn't have done it without the support of everybody back at home," Hofbauer, who was seventh in the men's race, told Athletics Canada. "I knew there was the possibility of making the Olympic team today and I just left it all out here."
The 27-year-old started the 42.2-kilometre event in strong fashion and never looked back. As he approached the finish line, an elated Hofbauer raised his hands to his head and said, 'Oh my God' before crossing in a personal-best 2:09:51.
WATCH | Trevor Hofbauer shaves nearly 7 minutes off his personal best:
"I'm just happy that I didn't screw it up," said Hofbauer, who was among 27,000 runners from over 70 countries on Sunday. "I was giving high-fives down the finish line, so for anybody who has been bashing me for that, I left it out there today so you can't take that away from me."
Hofbauer's previous best was 2:16:48, set on April 28 at the Hamburg Marathon in Germany while his winning time in Toronto two years ago was 2:18:05.
For the last five years I've continued to believe I could get myself to this position. — Canada's Trevor Hofbauer on clinching a spot in the 2020 Olympic marathon
Hofbauer received a $5,000 bonus for meeting the men's 2:11:30 Olympic standard. He was the lone Canadian male to do so as Tristan Woodfine of Cobden, Ont., finished more than three minutes behind Hofbauer with a 2:13:16 PB as the second Canadian while two-time Olympian Reid Coolsaet clocked 2:15:23 for fourth.
"After 10K things smoothed out, I relaxed and came out with a PB so I'm happy with that," said Woodfine, who was 11th overall in the men's race. His previous best was 2:15:19, set on Jan. 20 in Houston.
'Ran my guts out' with 2:11:30 group
Woodfine, who pocketed $2,000 for his sub-2:14 effort, pointed to the continuity of his training working with coach Greg Kealey since last fall for his 2019 breakthrough season.
"The program is very different [and has] taken a while to get used to," he said. "The training has got harder and harder the past two years and now I'm seeing the fruits of all that work."
Hofbauer, who elected not to wear a watch to gauge his pace, went out with the 2:11:30 group and "ran my guts out."
"For the last five years I've continued to believe I could get myself to this position," he added, "and if everything went well I could do something special. The energy [from the fans] was electric."
'It came together at the right time'
Hofbauer prepared for Sunday's race by finishing sixth at the Edmonton half marathon (1:06:29) on Aug. 18 and a month later second at the Vancouver Eastside 10K (29:58).
Calgary-born Rory Linkletter and Evan Esselink of Courtice, Ont., are two other elite runners who debuted in the marathon on Sunday. They placed 16th and 20th, respectively, in 2:16:42 and 2:18:38.
Pidhoresky, 32, was the fastest Canadian woman and 10th overall in 2:29:03, achieving the women's Olympic standard by 27 seconds.
WATCH | Dayna Pidhoresky clocks personal-best 2:29:03:
In May, the Vancouver resident was sixth at the Ottawa Marathon (2:37:19) and fell one place short of a top-five result and automatic Olympic berth.
"Honestly, I feel I've had that in me for years, and it just came together at the right time," said Pidhoresky of Sunday's PB showing. "I had probably [my] rockiest [marathon] build ever."
Pidhoresky's coach and husband, Josh Seifarth, reminded her to stay patient and it paid off. Pidhoresky was running at a 2:22 pace near the 50-minute mark and later said the fear of blowing up midway through the race motivated her to finish strong.
Emily Setlack, who hails from Kingston, Ont., fell 18 seconds shy of standard but did earn a $3,000 bonus for finishing under 2:31.
Victorious Kenyans set course records
Kinsey Middleton was unsuccessful in defending her Canadian women's title, stopping the clock in 2:34:36 for third place and 11th overall. The Canadian/U.S. citizen, whose mother was born in Guelph, Ont., posted the third fastest Canadian debut of all-time in 2018 at 2:32:09.
Sunday's 12th-place overall finish was Levins' first marathon since his memorable 2018 debut after a knee injury forced the native of Black Creek, B.C., to withdraw from the London Marathon in April. At times in his Toronto build, the 30-year-old also experienced abdominal pain on the right side, mostly during long training runs.
Levins said he is eager to return to the Olympics after competing on the track in 2012 at London, where he placed 11th in the 10,000 metres and 14th in the 5,000.
"It's the ultimate level of competition and representation of your country and I would like that again," Levins told CBC Sports ahead of Sunday's marathon, while adding "I don't think I ever lost that goal" following 2016 surgery on his left foot that kept him from training on the track until this past July.
Levins and other Canadian men and women have until May to achieve the respective Olympic qualifying standards before team selections are announced June 1.
Philemon Rono won the men's race and the $30,000 top prize on Sunday in a course-record 2:05:09 after fellow Kenyan Benson Kipruto ended his two-year title reign a year ago.
WATCH | Rono runs to Toronto Waterfront Marathon win:
Kenya's Magdalayne Masai-Robertson won the women's race and $30,000 in 2:22:16, also a course record.
WATCH | Masai-Robertson claims women's Toronto Waterfront Marathon title: