By Paul Gains

Derara Hurisa is the latest in a long list of Ethiopian greats to commit to the 2023 TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon scheduled for October 15th.

Once again, the event is a World Athletics Elite Label race. The 26-year-old has had an extraordinary marathon career to date ever since winning his debut at the 2020 Mumbai Marathon. There he ran 2:08:09 which remains his personal best
despite a few other memorable outings.

Two years ago Hurisa won the Guadalajara Marathon at 1,600m altitude in Mexico eight months after achieving notoriety for all the wrong reasons in Vienna.

Hurisa, then still relatively young at 23 years of age, crossed the finish line first at the Vienna Marathon. He clocked a time of 2:09:22 three seconds ahead of Kenya’s Leonard Langat. No sooner had Hurisa crossed the finish then officials approached him and within minutes he was disqualified.

World Athletics has instigated strict rules to limit the thickness of racing shoes. It was found that Hurisa had worn a different pair of shoes to those he submitted in the pre-race inspection. They were one centimetre too thick. It is believed this was the first time a marathoner had been disqualified under these rules.

“My preparation for Vienna marathon was very good,” he says looking back on the incident. “I had to switch my shoes because it was my very first time putting on those shoes. It wasn’t the shoes I wore when I was in training. So I decided to switch and use them without knowing it was different. The colour was similar.”

Not only did he run himself to exhaustion over the 42.2 kilometres but the €10,000 first-place prize money went to Langat. He admits he was very angry to learn of his mistake.

“I was shocked by that news when (Eritrean runner) Tadesse Abraham told me that I was disqualified,” he remembers, “because it wasn’t something I was expecting. Yes, I was angry, definitely.”

As an indication of Hurisa’s potential Langat returned to Vienna a year later and finished second in 2:06:59. The Ethiopian believes he is capable of times quicker than this.

Since then he has put the disappointment behind him. Earlier this year he finished second in the Stockholm Marathon. The race features many of the sites of the Swedish capital. But can also be challenging due to its numerous turns and warm June weather. His time there was a modest 2:11:01 on a hot day. Toronto Waterfront Marathon has far fewer turns and with a course record of 2:05:00 (Philemon Rono of Kenya) is far more inviting. He is optimistic of a great run in Toronto after some good early training sessions.

“It’s going great and yes, I’m pleased with my fitness level more than ever,” he reports. “I have been training for six or seven days in a week. Compared to previous marathon buildups it has been much better.”

Asked to reveal his goal for Toronto he is concise and to the point: “I would like to achieve a victory with a good time.”

Hurisa grew up in Ambo in western Ethiopia. Kenenisa Bekele was inspired by him winning the three-time Olympic titles and setting world 5,000m and 10,000m records. Hurisa was recrtuited by the Bahrain Athletics Federation after a cross-country race in Oromia. He was still in his teens.

For three years he lived in the oil-rich country earning a salary to run.  At the 2015 World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China he placed 22nd in the Under-20 race helping Bahrain to a 4th place finish. A year later though he went back to Ethiopia and now travels on an Ethiopian passport.

These days he is focused on the marathon under the watchful eye of coach Gemedu Dedefo and enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.

“I like to spend my time with my family – I’m married and I have one boy and one girl – and I like going to church,” he explains. “I do return to my birth village whenever there is holiday.”

Conditions are likely to be cooler in Toronto compared to what he experienced in Mumbai. Clearly, he will be prepared to run with the leaders. And he is certainly due some good luck.