by Brett Larner
Each year the Hokkaido Marathon in Japan's northernmost major city of Sapporo is the first elite race on the worldwide fall marathon season calendar. Although it rarely has overseas elites, Hokkaido showcases much of Japan's up-and-coming talent and some of the better Japan-based Africans. This year's race takes place this Sunday, Aug. 29. The race will be broadcast live on Fuji TV starting at noon, a broadcast which overseas viewers can watch for free by clicking here. Additionally, this year for the first time Hokkaido will sponsor a 5-hour official webcast via Ustream. Check the Hokkaido Marathon website closer to race date for more information.
The men's race features the return of defending champion Daniel Njenga (Kenya/Team Yakult). The veteran Njenga may have slipped from the ranks of the world's top-tier marathoners but his world record-pace surge in the middle of last year's race showed that he still has the ability to compete and win. His main competition comes from first-timer Silas Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable) and ace half-marathoner Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Aidem). Njui won last month's Sapporo International Half Marathon in decisive fashion over sub-hour half-marathoner Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and comes to Hokkaido as the likely favorite. Mogusu, a talented runner who DNF'd in his marathon debut at last December's Fukuoka International Marathon, was nearly two minutes behind Njui at the Sapporo Half.
A Japanese challenge is most likely to come from 2008 winner Masaru Takamizawa, an assistant coach at national champion Saku Chosei H.S. Takamizawa, inspired by the example of his wife Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) who won last year's Hokkaido Marathon in a course-record time, is talking about winning with Hokkaido's first-ever sub-2:10. Other top Japanese runners include 2010 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon winner Masaki Shimoju (Team Konica Minolta) and 2:11:47 man Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei).
The Hokkaido women's race has for years been dominated by runners from Second Wind AC, but with past winners Shimahara and Yuri Kano running November's Asian Games marathon and the retirement of last year's runner-up Akemi Ozaki this year's invited athlete field is made up entirely of runners from the Yoshio Koide-coached Team Universal Entertainment and Team Kyocera. Universal sends four runners including 2008 winner Yukari Sahaku and 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa while Kyocera's contingent is made up of identical twins Hiroko and Yoko Miyauchi who have been on top of the domestic elite half marathon scene this year.
However, the biggest news in the field is the Universal debut of former Kyocera star Yumiko Hara. Hara, a 2:23 runner and two-time World Championships marathoner while at Kyocera, left the team in April 2009 after a change in Kyocera's leadership. Absent from the scene for a year, she unexpectedly turned up this April in the Koide stable at Universal. Hokkaido will be her debut in her new uniform, and it is safe to say that the majority of the media attention will be focused on her. Whoever wins will stand a chance of being selected for next summer's World Championships team should her time be strong enough.
2010 Hokkaido Marathon Elite Field
click here for more detailed profiles
Daniel Njenga (Kenya/Team Yakult) - 2:06:16 (Chicago '02)
Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:47 (Tokyo '08)
Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S. AC) - 2:12:10 (Hokkaido '08)
Masaki Shimoju (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:12:18 (Nobeoka '10)
Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:04 (Tokyo '10)
Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:34 (Hokkaido '09)
Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Aidem) - 59:48 (Marugame Half '07)
Silas Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable) - 1:01:03 (Sapporo Half '09) - debut
Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) - 1:01:19 (Sapporo Half '08) - debut
Yumiko Hara (Team Universal Ent.) - 2:23:48 (Osaka '07)
Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Ent.) - 2:25:38 (Tokyo '09)
Yukari Sahaku (Team Universal Ent.) - 2:28:55 (Tokyo '09)
Chihiro Tanaka (AthleC RC) - 2:29:30 (Nagoya '02)
Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:32:20 (Yokohama '09)
Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:33:36 (Nagoya '10)
Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ. AC) - 2:33:55 (Hokkaido '09)
Nami Tani (Team Universal Ent.) - 2:33:59 (Hokkaido '09)
Misuzu Okamoto (Team Hokkoku Bank) - 2:34:12 (Hokkaido '09)
Chinami Fukaminato (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:34:16 (Hokkaido '09)
Sumiko Suzuki (Team Hokuren) - 2:35:51 (Nagoya '09)
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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