by Brett Larner
Updated 3/21/09 to reflect athlete withdrawals.
The 2009 Tokyo Marathon is the first marathon in Japan to publicly announce significant prize money, the first A-level marathon to host both elite men's and women's fields, and the final domestic selection race for the 2009 World Championships men's marathon team.
On paper the men's race has attracted a respectable field, with four runners posting best times under 2:07 and ten under 2:09. The reality is that almost all are aging veterans, with only four runners in the field having broken 2:10 within the last two years. The chance may be there for a first-timer or little-known name to step up for the win.
Among the overseas entrants, most eyes will be on Sammy Korir (Kenya). Korir is the third-fastest man ever in the marathon with a PB of 2:04:56 from Berlin 2003. A past winner of the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, he ran the 2007 Tokyo Marathon but dropped out near 16 km, sitting out the rest of the year with injuries. In 2008 he returned soon after his 36th birthday with a 2:08:01 and 2:07:32 just over two months apart but then cancelled a planned run in the Chicago Marathon after another injury. Now 37, if Korir is back to his fitness of a year ago he may be the man to beat. If both are fit, the most likely to challenge him is Salim Kipsang (Kenya). Kipsang was 3rd in the 2007 Berlin Marathon but has not run a marathon since then. A comeback performance could put him up front.
A sentimental crowd favorite is 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult/Kenya). Njenga is one of the greatest marathoners of all time but has slipped in the last few years, his 2:09:45 win in Tokyo two years ago being his last time under 2:10. Like Korir and Kipsang he would need a significant return to form to be in contention. Likewise for Dmytro Baranovskyy, well-liked in Japan for his 2005 Fukuoka International Marathon win and his PB run against Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) and Jaouad Gharib (Morocco) in Fukuoka in 2006 but having performed poorly in recent years.
Turning to the Japanese athletes, with a World Championships berth and possibly two at stake the race will be a competitive one. The top domestic finisher is guaranteed a place on the Berlin team, while the runner-up has a chance of being selected if he beats the 2:09:47 mark set by 2008 Fukuoka International Marathon 3rd place finisher Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon). Heading up the field are five familiar faces.
Beijing Olympian Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), the 2005 World Championships bronze medalist will be trying for his fourth-straight World Championships marathon along with his teammate Kurao Umeki. Umeki is unlikely to figure into the action, but while Ogata is a shrewd and experienced competitor he has not broken 2:10 since 2004 and will be hard-pressed to make the cut.
Quietly in the background is Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei). Sato was 2nd in the 2007 Tokyo Marathon and ran 2:09:59 in both of his marathons last year, making him the most stable man in the field. Sato was the third Japanese runner in Fukuoka in December and needs to improve on his time to have a chance of not been condemned to the World Championships team alternate position again. If the race is fast it is doubtful that he could contend, but in a more conservative race watch for him to finish hard.
The other two big domestic names are something of a dream matchup, national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) and the previous national record holder and only Japanese man to run 2:06 within Japan, Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu). Every marathon fan in the country wants to see one more big run from the 38 year old Takaoka, but with his performances having declined in the last two years and having sustained an injury in February which prevented him from fully training for Tokyo Takaoka has announced that barring a finish as the top Japanese he will retire after Tokyo. Regrettably it looks as though it would take a Hollywood ending for him to come through.
Fujita is at the other end of the spectrum. Something of a men's version of Yoko Shibui (Team Sumitomo Kaijo), Fujita has never really followed through on the promise of his national record run in 2000. He has, however, completely remade himself in the last year. He has a new, more positive personality, new track PBs, and he is thinking big. He is talking about winning. He is talking about the national record. He may well fall flat on his face again, but if he makes a comeback anything like Shibui did in January's Osaka International Women's Marathon then Fujita will be the one dictating the terms of the race.
New faces constantly crop up in the Japanese distance running world. Two people to watch out for are Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) and Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko). Nakao has run two marathons unsuccessfully, but in the last year he has improved dramatically over the half marathon including a 5th place finish in the 2008 World Half Marathon Championships. The son of four-time national record setter Takayuki Nakao, there are high hopes that he will deliver a big performance. Hopes are also high for 2007 World Championships 10000 m runner Maeda, who has relatively little in the way of long-distance road experience but whose goal of a sub-2:09:30 would put him in the all-time Japanese debut marathon top four. As in last year's Tokyo Marathon, where Arata Fujiwara came from complete anonymity to finish 2nd in 2:08:40, almost any of a few dozen others in the general elite division could likewise surprise. Fujiwara's JR teammate Ryota Komano, the 2008 Hakone Ekiden 5th stage winner, could be the one to do it.
The 2009 Tokyo Marathon will be broadcast nationwide on Fuji TV beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Mar. 22. International viewers should be able to watch online through one of the sites listed here. The complete field for the 2009 Tokyo Marathon is available here.
2009 Tokyo Marathon - Top Elite Men
Listed times are best times within the last two years.
Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:07:29
Sammy Korir (Kenya) - 2:07:32
Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult/Kenya) - 2:09:45
Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:59
Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - 2:10:23
Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:10:51
Kurao Umeki (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:11:00
Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) - 2:11:21
Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:47
Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:52
Tomohiro Seto (Team Kanebo) - 2:12:21
Yusuke Kataoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:12:28
Asnake Roro (Ethiopia) - 2:12:39
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:26
Justin Young (U.S.A.) - 2:13:54
Moges Taye (Ethiopia) - 2:14:24
Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 2:23:29
Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - debut
Ryota Komano (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - debut
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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