by Brett Larner
Kebede vs. Mogusu - click for preview video
Update 12/5: 2005 World Championships bronze medalist and 2004 Fukuoka winner Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) has withdrawn due to illness.
The 63rd Fukuoka International Marathon takes place this Sunday, Dec. 6. With the puzzling and almost total absence of elite Japanese runners this year the focus is rightfully on the foreign field, and the Japanese media are setting up the race as a two-man show. In the one corner, Beijing Olympics bronze medalist Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) returns after setting the Japanese all-comers record of 2:06:10 at last year's race and then going on to take his PB down to 2:05:20 at the London Marathon in April. In the other, the popular and likeable Kenyan Mekubo Mogusu (Team Aidem), who became a star before graduating from Yamanashi Gakuin University this past April thanks to four years' worth of suicidal Hakone Ekiden runs and a hat-trick of sub-hour half marathons during his junior year, is running his debut marathon and talking 2:04 or better.
Barring bad weather, which doesn't look to be in the forecast, it's hard to see Kebede not run the first 2:05 on Japanese soil. Mogusu on the other hand.....Part of what has made him a star in Japan is his inability to cope with competition. Time and again the race plan has gone out the window when someone has tried to run with Mogusu, he's lost control, and it's turned into a mad world record-pace dash, sometimes with disastrous results. He can usually get away with this at the half marathon distance, but in the marathon? Mogusu's 1:02 two weeks ago at the Nagoya Half Marathon was actually a positive sign as he held back from trying to take down Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin), who broke the hour mark, instead seeming to turn in a marathon pace run. If it's hard to see Kebede not running 2:05 it's equally hard to see Mogusu not trying to put the hammer down on him from the start, something that will almost surely be another disaster. But if he holds back, now that's going to be an exciting race. Actually, it's going to be an exciting race either way.
Luckily overseas viewers will be able to watch TV Asahi's live race broadcast thanks to Keyhole TV, available here. The race is on from noon to 2:30 p.m. Japan time on Dec. 6. Unfortunately JRN won't be able to provide live English commentary on JRNLive this time as editors Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin are both running the Okutama Ekiden the same day, but to help you sort out who's who the field listing below includes bib numbers.
As you can see, it's not an entirely two-man field. If anyone is going to go with Kebede and Mogusu it will be 2008 Chicago Marathon winner Evans Cheruiyot (Kenya), whose half marathon PB of 59:05 is far superior to Mogusu's. The withdrawal of Eritrean ace Yonas Kifle removes another contender, but 2005 Fukuoka winner Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) is lining up again. Ethiopians Tekeste Kebede and Dereje Tesfaye could step up their game and factor in, and Japan-based Kenyans Harun Njoroge (Team Komori Corp.) and Joseph Gitau (Team JFE Steel), like Mogusu running their first marathons, cannot be ignored.
With the withdrawal of aging 2005 Helsinki World Championships bronze medalist Ogata the only elite Japanese man is 2007 Osaka World Championships marathoner Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei), but he is not likely to be among the leaders. The talented Takayuki Ota (Team Fujitsu), who holds a 30 km PB of 1:30:14 from 2007, is entered in the general division, taking on the marathon again after a DNF at the 2008 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu), one of the great hopes for the next generation of Japanese distance runners, will be acting as one of the pacemakers in advance of an expected spring marathon debut. Whether Sato, Ota or another man is the top Japanese finisher, they will stand a chance of being selected for the 2010 Asian Games team on the strength of their run in Fukuoka.
Beyond the top elites, three talented amateur Japanese men in the field deserve some attention. The young Yuki Kawauchi, profiled yesterday, is targeting a sub-2:15 in his third marathon. If he succeeds he will take over the title of best amateur in Japan from 2009 Copenhagen Marathon winner Toyokazu Yoshimura, who is himself targeting sub-2:15 next week at the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon. Nobuaki Takata, better known as the man in the wig from March's Tokyo Marathon, ran his PB of 2:19:31 at last year's Fukuoka and will be trying to improve on that mark. Rikuren officials did not take kindly to Takata's wig run and are sure to looking for an excuse to pounce on him this time, so don't expect to see this again. Lastly, 60 year old Yoshihisa Hosaka is once again breaking new ground as the oldest man ever to qualify for Fukuoka. Hosaka ran a world record 2:36:30 at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon four weeks after turning 60. What few people realize is that four weeks before his 60th birthday Hosaka also ran 2:34:23 at last year's Fukuoka. Think about that for a while. Hosaka told JRN earlier this week that he is not feeling 100% this year and doesn't expect to break his world record, planning instead to focus on April's Boston Marathon.
2009 Fukuoka International Marathon - Elite Field and Notable Entrants
click here for a complete field listing in English
1. Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:05:20 (2009)
2. Evans Cheruiyot (Kenya) - 2:06:24 (2008)
3. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:07:15 (2006)
5. Jon Brown (Canada) - 2:09:31 (2005)
6. Tekeste Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:09:49 (2009)
7. Oleg Kulkov (Russia) - 2:10:13 (2009)
22. Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (2004)
23. Mekubo Mogusu (Team Aidem) - debut - 59:48 (half, 2007)
51. Dereje Tesfaye (Ethiopia) - 2:11:10 (2006)
52. Luis Feiteira (Portugal) - 2:11:57 (2009)
53. Vitaliy Shafar (Ukraine) - 2:12:07 (2007)
65. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:18:18 (2009)
67. Nobuaki Takata (Hirakata Masters AC) - 2:19:31 (2008)
115. Takayuki Ota (Team Fujitsu) - 1:30:14 (30 km, 2007)
128. Harun Njoroge (Team Komori Corp.) - debut - 1:01:04 (half, 2008)
129. Joseph Gitau (Team JFE Steel) - debut - 1:01:19 (half, 2008)
299. Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) - 2:36:30 (2009) - 60+ WR
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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