01 January 2004, 8am
Half a world away from Berlin, in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, two more world records were set.
Two older runners outshone the field. Fauja Singh, 92 years old, resident of Ilford, on the outskirts of London, travelled to visit family in Toronto and shattered his previous mark to set a new world record for 90+: 5:40:04.
Not to be outdone, Canadian phenomenon, 72-year-old Ed Whitlock of Milton, Ontario, became the first over-70 runner to go under 3 hours – with an agonisingly close 2:59:10.
Several thousand spectators lined the last kilometre of the course. The roar was huge as the nonagenarian Singh crossed the line to be mobbed by ecstatic members of the city’s South Asian community and the media.
“I feel great; I’m really happy.” exclaimed Singh after his record finish.
“It was very nice and I felt comfortable. I enjoyed the course and all the support. I received a lot of respect from the South Asian community of Toronto, and I’m grateful for that. My ambition was to knock a minute or two off my record, or get under 6 hours – I never expected a time like this.”
Singh attributes his success to a healthy diet, including his favourite ginger curry, daily meditation for relaxation at his local Sikh Temple, warm baths, and 10 miles a day in training – running or walking.
Indeed, Singh looked decidedly more comfortable at the finish than the Canadian record-breaker Whitlock.
With his face cut and scraped from a fall he took in training earlier in the week, Whitlock showed every sign of the enormous physical effort to establish his remarkable record, his face grimacing with pain as he leaned to the left and dragged himself down the final straightaway.
The crowd were on their feet as the seconds ticked by, and he made it home with just 50 seconds to spare after failing by only 24 seconds in his previous attempt on the “sub-3, over 70” barrier in May 2001. “I was dead on my feet,” said Whitlock.
“I couldn’t have gone much further. I had a real tough time doing the last 200 metres.” Much appreciation was also shown to local club runners Mike Bedley and Gary Kapitan who ran, respectively, alongside Whitlock and Singh.
It was a remarkable day for running in Toronto as well as Berlin, and consensus was widespread that the Waterfront event signalled the return of top-quality, marathon excitement to the city.