by Brett Larner
If the preliminary announcement is to be believed, the organizers of the Sapporo International Half Marathon have done an outstanding job in setting up a strong field for this year's 53rd edition to be held July 4. Last year's race was expected to include Beijing Olympics marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya), but his listing turned out to be only the empty promise of a promoter. This year's men's field is slated to include a handful of big names, and if all show Sapporo could be one of the best races of the summer.
Topping the overseas men's field are Berlin World Championships marathon gold medalist Abel Kirui and 2:05 marathoner Vincent Kipruto, both of Kenya, along with their Japan-resident sub-hour countrymen Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin), the 2009 Sapporo winner, and Mekubo Mogusu (Team Aidem), the course record holder and 2007-08 winner. Somewhat of a non-sequitur, American Antonio Vega rounds out the overseas men's field.
The domestic field will be vying for a spot on the Japanese national team for this fall's World Half Marathon Championships. The strongest is 13:18/27:41 man Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu), who has fallen short of his 2010 goals of a strong marathon debut and the 10000 m national record but has recently show himself to be rounding back into peak form. Veterans Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) are also on the invite list but are unlikely to figure into the action. It's one of the quirks of Sapporo management that the complete elite entry lists are not usually publicly released before the race, and thus there are always a few surprises come race day. One runner in this group who may challenge Mitsuya for the top Japanese spot is independent Arata Fujiwara, who became the first Japanese man since 1987 to win an overseas marathon with a sub-2:10 time when he set the course record at last month's Ottawa Marathon.
With no women being brought in from overseas the domestic women's field is deep and competitive. Japan resident Mara Yamauchi (U.K.) will be a solid contender against 2009 winner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) and 2008 winner Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC). Other top Japanese women in the field include Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido), Chika Horie (Team Universal Ent.), Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu), Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya), Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Ent.), Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), Chisato Osaki (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC).
Click here for a complete invited elite field listing. The race will be broadcast live nationwide. Overseas viewers should be able to watch live online for free through Keyhole TV. JRN will offer live race commentary through its Twitter feed JRNLive. Check back closer to race date for further details.
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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