Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tsegaye Kebede Makes History in Fukuoka

Kebede makes history. Click photo for video highlights of the 2009 Fukuoka International Marathon. Click here for lo-res version.

by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics and Berlin World Championships double bronze medalist, defending champion and Japanese all-comers record holder Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia lived up to expectations and more with a history-making 2:05:18 win at the 2009 Fukuoka International Marathon. Kebede's time was a PB by two seconds and a new course and new Japanese all-comers record, no doubt pleasing race organizers and his accountant by keeping Fukuoka among the world's very best courses. Most significantly, though, Kebede's performance was the 10th of the year to break 2:06, the first time the top ten fastest times of the year have cleared this former barrier. Coming in the last first-rate marathon of the year worldwide, it seals 2009 as the start of a new era in men's marathoning.

Kebede breaks the sound barrier. Click photo for more great pictures, detailed splits and more from race broadcaster TV Asahi's Fukuoka website.

Japanese ace Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu), acting as pacemaker, took the pack through 5 km right on 3:00/km pace. Shortly afterwards fellow pacemakers Samson Ramadhani (Tanzania) and John Kales (Kenya) picked things up to 2:57, leading away a pack of six: Kebede, Ethiopians Tekeste Kebede and Dereje Tesfaye, 2005 Fukuoka winner Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine), 2008 Chicago Marathon winner Evans Cheruiyot (Kenya) and Japan-resident marathon debutant Mekubo Mogusu (Team Aidem). Mitsuya held on at a credible 3:00 pace leading a pack of five: Japanese runners Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama T&F Assoc.), Russian Oleg Kulkov, Korean Kyo-Jick Lee, and Kenyan first-timer Joseph Gitau (Team JFE Steel).

After a moderate 1:03:05 first half, exactly on pace to match his 2:06:10 course and Japanese all-comers record from last year's Fukuoka, Tsegaye Kebede broke away with a slowly building surge from 27 km. To the disappointment of Japanese fans, the popular Mogusu was the first to falter, dropping back at 26 km and eventually out at 31 km. Cheruiyot and Baranovskyy were the next to lose touch, leaving the three Ethiopians up front. In the second pack things strung out after halfway, Lee dropping out at 25 km and Gitau and talented amateur Kawauchi losing contact. As the only elite Japanese runner in the field, stalwart 2:09 man Sato pressed ahead on track for a sizeable PB.

After 30 km only his training partner Dereje Tesfaye could keep up with Tsegaye Kebede's continuous acceleration, pacing him through 32 km before losing touch. You could almost see the checklist going through his mind as Kebede ran on over the final 10 km: "First 2:05 in Japan, check. PB, check. 2:04: question mark." In the end the PB was as far as he went, and barely. He had to run the final lap of the track in 66 seconds to get there, but he made it. In his post-race interview Kebede was elated, animated and charismatic, pointing first to the clock and then to himself as he posed for pictures.

Tesfaye faded to 4th but ran a solid PB of 2:08:36. Overtaking him were Tekeste Kebede, creating no end of headaches for broadcasters by running a 2-minute PB of 2:07:52 for 2nd (A Kebede 1-2 finish!), and 2005 winner Baranovskyy, who ecstatically beat his Fukuoka-winning time with his 2nd-best-ever mark of 2:08:19. Cheruiyot came in slow for 5th in an unremarkable 2:09:46, failing again to capitalize on the promise of his 2:06:25 in the heat of the 2008 Chicago Marathon.

In the second pack things got ugly. Sato did his best to live up to the pressure of being the top Japanese man in the field but couldn't sustain the strain of his 1:03:35 first half, staggering in to an agonizing 2:23:59 31st-place finish back among the amateurs. The little-known Tadashi Shitamori (Team Yasukawa Denki) came up through the pack after a modest 1:04:52 first half to take the top Japanese spot, 9th overall in 2:14:42. Whether he is selected for next year's Asian Games national team on such a performance remains to be seen. Takayuki Ota (Team Fujitsu) was the 2nd Japanese runner, 11th in 2:15:23.

More notable, perhaps, were the 3rd and 4th Japanese runners, amateurs Kawauchi, 13th in 2:17:33, and Nobuaki Takata (Hirakata Masters AC), 14th in 2:19:00. Kawauchi was clearly in trouble at 25 km after a screaming (for an amateur) 1:03:44 first half just 31 seconds off his half-marathon PB, but gutted out a 45 second PB in his third marathon of the year. Takata, aka the Tokyo Marathon Man in the Wig, ran with seriousness and focus through a 1:08:10 first half en route to a 31 second PB. 60+ world record holder Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods), dealing with seasonal asthma, banged out a 1:15:48 first half before struggling in to a 2:40:39.

Sitting on the sidelines, Mogusu was a sad figure. An undeniably talented runner with his own drive and motivations, Mogusu seemed to lack the fire that made him so popular as a Hakone Ekiden star. His predecessor at Yamanashi Gakuin University, Ombeche Mokamba (Kenya), went on to train solo at the non-ekiden-oriented Team Aidem but never acheived any marathon results worthy of his name. Mogusu's throroughly lackluster debut raises the depressing spectre that he may follow Mokamba down the same road.

2009 Fukuoka International Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results in English
1. Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:05:18 - PB, CR, Japanese all-comers record
2. Tekeste Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:07:52 - PB
3. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:08:19
4. Dereje Tesfaye (Ethiopia) - 2:08:36 - PB
5. Evans Cheruiyot (Kenya) - 2:09:46
6. Luis Feiteira (Portugal) - 2:13:07
7. Oleg Kulkov (Russia) - 2:13:49
8. Harun Njoroge (Team Komori Corp.) - 2:14:17 - debut
9. Tadashi Shitamori (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:14:42
10. Vitaliy Shafar (Ukraine) - 2:15:07
11. Takayuki Ota (Team Fujitsu) - 2:15:23 - PB
12. Thomas Payn (U.K.) - 2:17:29
13. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama T&F Assoc.) - 2:17:33 - PB
14. Nobuaki Takata (Hirakata Masters AC) - 2:19:00 - PB
278. Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) - 2:40:39
DNF - Mekubo Mogusu (Team Aidem)

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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