by Brett Larner
There was a time when Japanese women controlled the Berlin Marathon, winning every year from 2000-2005 and setting a world record and three national records under 2:20. The men have had some success as well, including the country's first 2:06 way back in 1999. Fast-forward a few years and, despite big-name Japanese women lining up in Chicago and New York, not a single elite Japanese woman is entered in the 2009 Berlin Marathon. Four men, on the other hand, will take the stage in the Sept. 20th race.
Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - PB: 2:11:25 (Tokyo '09)
Leading the group is 2009 World Championships marathon team alternate Kensuke Takahashi. Takahashi has run only two marathons, most recently a 3rd-place finish in March's Tokyo Marathon in a PB of 2:11:25. While Takahashi's time doesn't look impressive, in reality he made the race with a breakaway move into a vicious headwind at 30 km, eventually breaking 2:04 marathoner Sammy Korir of Kenya and looking good while doing it. Without the wind his time may have been three minutes faster. Having trained to be ready for last month's World Championships Takahashi is in excellent condition and it would not be surprising to see him have a significant breakthrough. There is little chance he will seek to challenge all-time top two Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia and Duncan Kibet of Kenya up front, but with Korir in the field again another exciting duel could be in the works.
Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - PB: 2:06:51 (Fukuoka '00)
Having already broken Toshihiko Seko's long-standing university marathon record, Atsushi Fujita became Japan's second 2:06 man with a then-national record at the 2000 Fukuoka International Marathon. Although he has had minor successes since then Fujita has never again approached this time, his only other sub-2:10 coming in Fukuoka in 2005 when he ran 2:09:48. In the winter of 2008-2009 the stoic Fujita had something of a revival, running his best 10000 m time since 2000. Hopes were high that he would have a similar comeback in March's Tokyo Marathon, but Fujita faded in the turbulence behind Takahashi's attack at 30 km and ultimately finished in a lowly 2:14:00. This time almost no media attention is being paid to Fujita's run and he is avoiding putting unrealistic demands on himself, saying that his goal is only to score his third sub-2:10. At such a pace he won't make the TV coverage, but for the man whose Fukuoka course record the great Haile Gebrselassie failed to break it would nevertheless be a tremedous success.
Tomohiro Seto (Team Kanebo) - PB: 2:12:21 (Berlin '07)
Tomohiro Seto is coached by national record holder Toshinari Takaoka. A mid-career runner with good track credentials who has had a handful of attempts at the marathon, thus far Seto has only managed to clock a time of 2:12:21. It was, however, on the Berlin course, so his reappearance this year no doubt signals that he is planning to take this mark down. If all were well a sub-2:10 would be thinkable.
Kentaro Ito (Team Kyowa Hakko Bio) - PB: 2:13:44 (Hofu '01)
Kentaro Ito is one of the rank and file of Japanese corporate runners, a solid low-teens marathoner little-known even in his own country. He has previously run overseas, the highlight being a 2:14:41 at the 2002 Chicago Marathon behind Toshinari Takaoka's 2:06:16 national record run. After an extended break from marathoning Ito returned to win last December's Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, receiving a trip to run Berlin as part of his prize package. He no doubt hopes to challenge his antiquated PB.
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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