by Brett Larner
Update: With 2 1/2 hours to go until the start the weather and forecast are terrible. 6 degrees, wind, and moderate to heavy rain.
The 2010 Tokyo Marathon takes place this Sunday, Feb. 28. With a potentially dramatic men's race lined up it's a shame that media coverage of this year's race has to have taken a back seat to the Winter Olympics, but the unfortunate timing does nothing to diminish what could be a course record year if the storm front threatening the Tokyo area passes in time. Both men's and women's defending champions Salim Kipsang (Kenya) and Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) return but neither stands an unbreakable chance of repeating.
Kipsang's PB of 2:07:29 puts him towards the top of the field, but he will have plenty of competition at that level. Six other men in the field have run under 2:08 within roughly the last two years. Rachid Kisri (Morocco) will wear bib #1 thanks to his 2:06:48 PB at last year's Paris Marathon, but with no other times under 2:11 to his name it remains to be seen whether he can repeat this lucky run. Veteran William Kiplagat (Kenya) is the only other man with a 2:06 PB. The fact that he is 37 and his PB came in 1999 may cause many to write him off, but with a 2:07:05 in Frankfurt last year he may still have the capacity to surprise. Kenyan Charles Kamathi and Ethiopians Gudisa Shentema and Teferi Wodajo all hold recent 2:07 times and should be up front in the later stages of the race.
The presence of half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) is a big part of what makes this year's Tokyo of particular interest. Sato's PB of 2:07:13 is still relatively fresh, but his psyche took major damage following a pre-race breakdown and then last-place finish at the Beijing Olympics. He has been building his way back to competitiveness piece by piece, beating Athens Olympics silver medalist Meb Keflezighi (U.S.A.) at last year's London Marathon, finishing 6th at the Berlin World Championships, then running a sensational stage-best 1:03:11 for 22.3 km at last month's New Year Ekiden, equivalent to 59:47 for the half marathon. Last year Sato indicated that he wanted to race overseas as much as possible as he builds toward the London Olympics, so it is a little tough to know what to make of his decision to run Tokyo this spring. Is it a sign that something is wrong and he lacks confidence in facing down a major, or is it a sign that he is ready for something big and wants to do it where the home crowd will see every minute? At the pre-race press conference Sato said he is planning to go for the win at next year's London Marathon and wants to win this year's Tokyo Marathon as a step toward that ambitious goal, which is itself a step toward the London Olympics.
2008 Tokyo Marathon runner-up Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) is the other major Japanese contender. Fujiwara's 2:08:40 breakthrough in Tokyo two years ago will by now be well-known to JRN readers. Fujiwara tells JRN his training for this year's Tokyo has been outstanding and his motivation for another major breakthrough is high, but his record makes it impossible to call his potential to follow through. With five marathons behind him he has had two successes and three major failures. Even his recent racing is difficult to read: at the New Year Ekiden he was fourth on the same stage as Sato in an excellent 1:03:26, but three weeks later he finished 29th on the anchor leg of the National Interprefectural Ekiden. Fujiwara is an all-or-nothing runner, so if he is on he will going for something big. Speaking at the press conference Fujiwara said he plans to try out what he has learned from his many failures and that his focus is on running a fast time.
Other Japanese men to watch include Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota), Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) and Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki). Takahashi made the race in Tokyo last year by leading the definitive breakaway, ultimately finishing 3rd. He has not been strong this ekiden season but could pull it together in Tokyo. Adachi won his marathon debut at the 2008 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, beating Moroccan Kisri, but has not followed up with an improvement on his mark of 2:11:59. What puts him into the noteworthy category is his under-control win at the Karatsu 10 Miler two weeks ago. Kobayashi is a veteran who has continued to slowly improve. He isn't likely to be in contention for the win, but at age 33 he is aiming for his first sub-2:10 and has said he hopes to give Sato and Fujiwara a race.
Also in the field are tough young first-timers Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku). Kitamura, who holds a 10000 m PB of 28:00.22 from age 21, will no doubt be looking to outdo the 2:12:59 debut mark by Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu) earlier this month by as wide a margin as possible. Okamoto has shown remarkable improvement over his first two pro years and under the guidance of Sato's coach Yasushi Sakaguchi (Team Chugoku Denryoku) is likely to perform well in his debut.
At the other end of the spectrum, 60+ world record holder Yoshihisa Hosaka will be running just three weeks after setting his latest record of 2:38:12 in Beppu-Oita. Hosaka sends this message to JRN readers: "This time in Tokyo I'll be trying to improve my record further. Please give me a cheer if you see me out there!"
Turning to the women's race, the small but well-balanced field should provide plenty of competition for defending champion Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment). With strong winds throughout the race last year Nasukawa's time of 2:25:38 does not give a true indication of the quality of her run, but her underperfoming runs later in the year in Hokkaido and Chicago did not live up to her potential. She has indicated that her race plan is for a new PB.
Nasukawa easily beat Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) in Tokyo last year but the Russia's solid record of 2:25 performances means on a good day she is sure to be there. Robe Guta (Ethiopia) won the Seoul Marathon last year just one second faster than Nasukawa's Tokyo-winning time and is likely to be her biggest competition. Julia Mumbi (Kenya) and veteran Nuta Olaru (Romania) have strong sub-2:30 credentials and should factor into a more conservative race. Teenager Jing Yang (China) rounds out the international elite women's field.
After Nasukawa, the next best Japanese runner is Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC), the older sister of 2009 Berlin World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). The elder Ozaki is a steady second-tier Japanese woman coming off a strong fall season which saw her set her PB of 2:27:23 in the heat of August's Hokkaido Marathon and then go on to win the Athens Classic Marathon. Tokyo this year will be her final race before retiring, and she has trained with a focus on breaking the course record currently held by Nasukawa. Ozaki's coach Manabu Kawagoe told JRN earlier today that her altitude training in Albuquerque went very well but that she is experiencing balance issues which make him concerned about the later stages of the race.
Miyuki Ando (Team Daiichi Seimei) is a teammate of the younger Ozaki, and with few marathons under her belt but added motivation from her teammate's World Championships medal she is no doubt looking to improve on her PB of 2:29:07. Also looking for improvement is Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC), a former teammate of Akemi Ozaki's. Worth a watch is debutante Yumi Sato (Team Shiseido), who holds a half marathon PB of 1:10:03.
The Tokyo Marathon will be broadcast live nationwide on Nihon TV beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Feb. 28. International viewers should be able to watch live online for free using the Keyhole TV software available here. English commentary on JRNLive will not be available as editors Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin are each running Tokyo again this year. To help with watching the race, the field listings below include bib numbers.
2010 Tokyo Marathon Elite Field
click here for complete field listing
1. Rachid Kisri (Morocco) - 2:06:48 (Paris '09)
2. William Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:06:50 (Amsterdam '99)
11. Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:07:13 (Fukuoka '07)
3. Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:07:29 (Berlin '07)
4. Charles Kamathi (Kenya) - 2:07:33 (Rotterdam '08)
5. Gudisa Shentema (Ethiopia) - 2:07:34 (Paris '08)
6. Teferi Wodajo (Ethiopia) - 2:07:45 (Amsterdam '09)
17. Shigeru Aburaya (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:07:52 (Biwako '01)
110. Tomoaki Kunichika (Team S&B) - 2:07:52 (Fukuoka '03)
102. Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) - 2:08:12 (Biwako '03)
12. Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:08:40 (Tokyo '08)
119. Erick Wainaina (Lights AC) - 2:08:43 (Tokyo Int'l '02)
13. Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:08:54 (Biwako '08)
101. Kazutoshi Takatsuka (Team Komori Corp.) - 2:08:56 (Biwako '04)
7. Julius Gitahi (Kenya) - 2:08:57 (Tokyo '08)
8. Aleksey Sokolov (Russia) - 2:09:07 (Dublin '07)
120. Shinichi Watanabe (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 2:09:32 (Berlin '04)
14. Kurao Umeki (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:09:52 (Berlin '03)
15. Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:10:38 (Beppu-Oita '09)
16. Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:25 (Tokyo '09)
18. Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:59 (Beppu-Oita '08)
9. Nicholas Kiprono (Uganda) - debut - 1:00:25 (half)
147. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - debut - 1:02:16 (half)
148. Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - debut - 1:02:26 (half)
24. Nuta Olaru (Romania) - 2:24:33 (Chicago '04)
22. Robe Guta (Ethiopia) - 2:24:35 (Hamburg '06)
21. Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:25:12 (Frankfurt '05)
31. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) - 2:25:38 (Tokyo '09)
23. Julia Mumbi (Kenya) - 2:26:00 (Osaka '08)
32. Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 2:27:23 (Hokkaido '09)
33. Miyuki Ando (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:29:07 (Osaka '08)
34. Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC) - 2:30:58 (Nagoya '08)
201. Yuka Ezaki (Fukuoka T&F Assoc.) - 2:34:51 (Nagoya '09)
202. Sumiko Suzuki (Team Hokuren) - 2:35:51 (Nagoya '09)
25. Jing Yang (China) - 2:36:28 (Beijing '09)
233. Yumi Sato (Team Shiseido) - debut - 1:10:03 (half)
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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