Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Fujiwaras - Tokyo Marathon 2010

by Brett Larner

What a day. With 6 degree temperatures at the start, strong winds, rain turning to snow as temperatures fell, and a tsunami warning for the waterfront finish area, this year's Tokyo Marathon had the worst conditions in the event's four-year history. That is saying quite a bit after the cold rain in 2007 and the gale-force winds last year. Times were never on the table as runners fought simply to survive.

Injury-plagued debut marathon national record holder Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) staged a major comeback, gutting it out over a pack of nine with a surge at 2:52/km over the last 2.195 km to win the men's race in 2:12:19, the first Japanese man to win Tokyo. 2008 Tokyo runner-up Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon), no relation, won out a great sprint finish for 2nd against half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and amateur Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't). Time aside, the day was a big one for Masakazu Fujiwara. One of the best university runners Japan has ever produced with the debut and university marathon record of 2:08:12 and a World University Games half marathon gold medal to his name, Fujiwara has struggled with overtraining-induced injuries throughout his pro career. Tokyo was only his 2nd marathon in the 7 years since his record-setting debut, and his win was a sign that at age 28 he may finally be ready to live up to the potential he showed years ago. At the post-race press conference Fujiwara told reporters, "After joining Honda I trained too hard for five years and was always injured. I've learned self-control recently and that is very significant. I think this is the new start of my marathon career. I think 2:06 is possible." Fujiwara will likely be named to the Japanese team for this November's Asian Games on the strength of his Tokyo run.

Russian Alevtina Biktimirova broke the women's field with a surge just before 12 km, dropping 30 seconds off her 5 km split and building a lead which was never threatened even as she slowed dramatically in the final stages. Biktimirova took her first Tokyo win in 2:34:39 as the top Japanese women fell apart in the wet snow, defending champion Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) and the retiring Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) both dropping out after alternating the lead in the chase pack. Ozaki was last seen staggering near 35 km and then talking to medical personnel. In their absence amateur Maki Kono (AC Kita) was the first Japanese finisher, 4th behind Ethiopian Robe Guta and Romanian Nuta Olaru. "I ran with the intent of setting a new PB," commented Biktimirova at the post-race press conference. "That's why I went out fast. However, because it was cold, I realized that it wasn't possible to run a PB today, so in the last half of the race I changed my goal to just winning the race.”

The men's race went out slightly off pace in the cold and rain at 3:02-3:03/km until the 15 km turnaround at Shinagawa, but even this was too much for some as contenders including Tokyo 2008 and 2009 3rd place finishers Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) and Julius Gitahi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) fell away. Rounding the post, the leaders ran straight into a headwind that lasted until the Asakusa turnaround just before 28 km. The pace dropped to 3:12/km but still runners lost contact, and around 26 km the rain turned to wet snow.

Rounding into the tailwind at 28 km, 2009 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon winner Akinori Shibutani (Team Yanagawa Denki) made a sudden, bold move with a push down to 3:00/km pace. Nobody made an immediate move to follow, the pack instead spending the next 4 km reeling him back in. Masakazu Fujiwara made the next move at 33 km. He opened a gap but at 34 km abruptly slowed and went to the rear of the pack. From there the pace slowed and the pack of nine began to wait for someone to make the next move. Kawauchi and first-time marathoner Joseph Mwaniki (Team Konica Minolta) took turns leading but nobody stepped up as the group ran over the bridges from 36 to 40 km.

Finally, at 40 km Masakazu Fujiwara took the reins and launched an attack going through the water station. Sato, Kawauchi and Mwaniki went after him but could not match strides. Arata Fujiwara was at the back of the pack and seemed to be caught off guard but shot up the inside of the pack in pursuit. As Masakazu Fujiwara built an unbreakable lead over the final two km, Arata Fujiwara waited until the downhill with one km to go to break away from Sato and Kawauchi. Only one second separated the trio from each other at the goal, with 15 seconds splitting the two Fujiwaras.

Arata Fujiwara and Sato's runs were good steps in the right direction even though each fell short of his goal, but Kawauchi's performance was the sensation of this year's Tokyo Marathon after Masakazu Fujiwara's return. A young self-training office worker in the Saitama Prefectural Government, Kawauchi's time of 2:12:36 was a PB by 5 minutes despite the conditions and a pre-race goal of 2:14. Looking at some of the people he beat and came close to beating it's quite possible he will get under 2:10 soon, something that would be noteworthy indeed.

2010 Tokyo Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results and splits
Men
1. Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) - 2:12:19
2. Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:34
3. Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:12:35
4. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:12:36 - PB
5. Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:46
6. Joseph Mwaniki (Kenya/Team Konica Minolta) - 2:12:53 - debut
7. Rachid Kisri (Morocco) - 2:12:59
8. Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:04 - debut
9. Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:13:16
10. Kiyokatsu Hasegawa (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:15 - debut

Women
1. Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:34:39
2. Robe Guta (Ethiopia) - 2:36:29
3. Nuta Olaru (Romania) - 2:36:42
4. Maki Kono (AC Kita) - 2:39:01
5. Jing Yang (China) - 2:41:04
6. Yumi Sato (Team Shiseido) - 2:43:01 - debut
7. Wakana Hanado (Team Nanchiku) - 2:44:03 - PB
8. Julia Mumbi (Kenya/Team Universal Entertainment) - 2:45:11
9. Yoshimi Kasezawa (Hadano Sports Park AC) - 2:47:03
10. Noriko Hirao (First Dream AC) - 2:47:32

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

hi
I am an Iranian coach and I was a referee in asian indoor championships.
in 800 m MASATO YOKOTA could get the 3rd place.
you can get more info from me.

Special Thanks
abi_mohammady@yahoo.com

Brett Larner said...

I just wanted to give a little more of a thumbs up to Yuki Kawauchi. He came in with a 2:17:33 PB from Fukuoka last year and finished with a new PB of 2:12:36, 17 seconds behind winner M. Fujiwara. Compare the Tokyo times and PBs of the top 4.

1. M. Fujiwara - 2:12:19 / 2:08:12 2. A. Fujiwara - 2:12:34 / 2:08:40 3. A. Sato - 2:12:35 / 2:07:13
4. Y. Kawauchi - 2:12:36 / 2:17:33

This was his 4th marathon, the first one being 13 months ago, and he has PB'd each time. Sub-2:10 next?

Omar Minami said...

Great report. Aweful weather indeed. I caught Noriko Hirao at km 41 and we raced to the finish. She beat me though lol...

Brett Larner said...

With regard to the last part of the previous comment, I assume this means the poster did not apply during the lottery period or was not picked in the lottery and then tried to get organizers to bend the rules, in which case yes, in general Japanese government officials have no interest in making exceptions for foreigners who do not follow the system.

Brett Larner said...

To the first poster--thanks for the information. I will put something up about it later today.

Simon said...

Really enjoyed watching what proved to be an exciting men's race. The Keyhole TV quality was so poor I couldn't even make out the winning time, but the dramatic finish more than made up for that and it was clearly a genuine RACE. I can't remember another marathon I've seen where so many were still in contention at the 40K mark.

Looked rough out there - particularly for Ms Ozaki. Hats off to anyone who ran through that weather!

Brett Larner said...

Yes, it was a good, tense race, the kind that reminds me that there is more to the sport than suicidal world record-pace crash-and-burn bloodbaths. Keyhole is not great quality, but until there is an alternative I hope it serves its purpose.

I can sympathize with Ozaki. It was tough.

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