by Brett Larner
The 63rd running of the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon takes place this Sunday, Feb. 1. This year's race is its first in a new international format, with a small group of four invited overseas men and three women added to the usual strong domestic and Japan-residing African field.
The man to beat is course record holder Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), who broke the hour mark for the first time in winning the 2007 Marugame. Mogusu comes to the race this year fresh from breaking his own stage record on the Hakone Ekiden's 2nd stage and will be all but impossible to beat. Only three men in the field have a conceivable chance. One is Mogusu's university rival Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.), who has approached Mogusu's level on the track and will be looking for his first legitimate world-class half marathon time. Another is Asian Record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), whose best time of 1:00:25 is only 37 seconds behind Mogusu's. Sato suffered a complete meltdown at the Beijing Olympics marathon, where he finished last, and was unremarkable in this month's New Year Ekiden, so despite his potential he may not be in condition to challenge Mogusu. More likely to be a threat is wildcard Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei). Iwai only holds a half-marathon PB of 1:02:59 from his student days, but three weeks ago at the Asahi Ekiden he ran the 16.7 km 7th stage in 45:35, his average pace of just under 2:44/km faster than that of the 15 km world record. Japanese runners rarely translate strong ekiden performances into equivalent half or full marathons, but Iwai looks to have a realistic chance of challenging the national record and the hour mark.
The invited foreign field includes marathoners Young-Joon Ji (South Korea), Jon Brown (Canada/U.K.), Francis Kirwa (Finland/Kenya) and Andrew Letherby (Australia). Other notables in the domestic field include Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon), Kenji Noguchi (Team Shikoku Denryoku), Yusuke Takabayashi (Komazawa Univ.), Yuki Yagi (Waseda Univ.), Ryuta Komano (Team JR Higashi Nihon), Martin Mukule (Team Toyota) and two-time Marugame winner Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel).
The women's field does not possess the overall depth of the men's field, but nevertheless looks set for a strong duel. At the top of the list is Beijing Olympics marathon 5th place finisher Mara Yamauchi (U.K.), who was 2nd at the 2007 Sapporo International Half Marathon in a PB of 1:08:45, the fastest in the field. Yamauchi's strongest challenger will be 2008 Sapporo winner Yuri Kano, who set her PB of 1:08:57 while winning in Sapporo. Kano was extremely strong last year but has reportedly been suffering from Achilles problems which may hamper her challenge. Romanian Luminita Talpos will also be a strong contender, having finished 9th in last fall's World Half Marathon Championships in 1:09:01. Only three other women in the field have broken 70 minutes. Of these, Reiko Tosa and Yoshiko Fujinaga set their best marks nearly ten years ago and are unlikely to be factors in the front pack, while Naoko Takahashi retired last year and is running in the general division.
Along with Yamauchi and Talpos, 2005 Universiade half marathon champion Eun-Jung Lee rounds out the list of invited foreign elites. Noteworthy domestic runners include Miho Notagashira (Team Wacoal), Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze), Mika Hikichi (Team Tenmaya) and half marathon debutantes Yuka Kakimi (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Evelyn Wamboi (Team Yutaka Giken).
A complete listing of the Marugame elite field is available here. An earlier article on Marugame can also be found here. The Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon will be broadcast in a 55-minute edited highlights format on Fuji TV at 2:10 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 2. International viewers should be able to watch online for free through one of the sites listed here.
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved