by Brett Larner
If it's the first Sunday in December then at last it's time for the last first-rate marathon of the year on the worldwide calendar, the Fukuoka International Marathon. Overseas viewers should be able to watch the live Japanese television broadcast on TV Asahi 12:00-2:30 p.m. Japan time on Dec. 5 via Keyhole TV by clicking here. Scroll down to the bottom of this article for a field listing with bib numbers and links to course maps.
Long Japan's most respected elite men's marathon, Fukuoka has stayed relevant in recent years by investing significant capital in bringing in one or two marquee athletes to deliver the goods with a supporting cast of top Japanese runners and second-tier internationals. Culminating in Ethiopian great Tsegay Kebede's 2:05:18 course record last year, the last four years have seen world record holder Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) and all three Beijing Olympics medalists, Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya), Jaouad Gharib (Morocco) and Kebede, run Fukuoka. All but Gharib won. 2010 may be his year to eliminate that distinction.
Beijing silver medalist and two-time World Champion Gharib is no doubt the favorite, a reliable 2:07 man at the time of his last Fukuoka appearance in 2006 before a sudden, surprising jump to his 2:05:27 PB at the 2009 London Marathon just shy of his 37th birthday. He followed up with a 2:06:55 at this year's London, a time which would still make him the best in the field if it were his PB. Injuries appear to have kept him away from the fall marathon season but a solid display at September's Great North Run suggested it was a minor glitch and that he will be ready to go. But, age has to take its toll at some point. Win or lose, there is little to no chance that Gharib will break Tsegaye Kebede's course record to give Fukuoka its fourth-straight record update.
His most likely competition will be from Ethiopian Tekeste Kebede, runner-up at both last year's Fukuoka and this year's Boston Marathon in 2:07 times. Fukuoka is a fast course, and with last year's experience and one of the best times ever on the difficult Boston course behind him Tekeste could have a major breakthrough performance. A course record is unlikely but a PB realistic.
Not to be discounted is 2005 Fukuoka winner Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine). Fukuoka has always been kind to Baranovskyy, with his three fastest times, 2:07:15, 2:08:19 and 2:08:29, posted there. He outkicked Gharib in the last 100 m in 2006 to finish 2nd behind Gebrselassie while setting his PB and had another great run last year. If the weather takes a turn for the colder look for him to be a threat.
Others in the surprisingly Kenyan-free overseas field include Adam Draczynski (Poland), Dmitriy Safronov (Russia), Luis Feiteira (Portugal), Kim Min (South Korea), Andrew Lemoncello (U.K.) and Fasil Bizuneh (U.S.A.). This year's sub-2:06 Prague Marathon winner Eliud Kiptanui (Kenya) will serve as pacemaker along with three others.
Which leaves the Japanese field. Last year's Fukuoka was an abdication of what is left of the throne of Japanese marathoning. Fukuoka has in the past seen Japanese men run 2:06:51 and numerous 2:07's, but with the increased weight placed on the New Year Ekiden Fukuoka's temporal proximity has made it almost a liability to most corporate teams. Last year only one elite Japanese man started, and the top domestic man barely cracked into the top 10. This year, with a berth on the 2011 World Championships team on offer to the fastest Japanese man under 2:09:30, it's a different story, luckily.
The theme for this year's Japanese men's field at Fukuoka is potential. Three veterans with outstanding times, 2:07 men Tomoaki Kunichika (Team S&B) and Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and 2:08 man Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), are on the entry list but few expect any of them to factor into the action. Another veteran, two-time World Championships team member and 2008 Fukuoka runner-up Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo), is still running well and should be up front, but five relatively inexperienced marathoners stand a chance of staging a breakthrough run. JRN's picks for those to watch:
Atsushi Ikawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - Ikawa is running his 2nd marathon, having debuted at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 4th in a credible 2:11:04. Otsuka Seiyaku brought Japan its first 2:06 and Ikawa, who ran conservatively in Beppu-Oita, appears fit, confident, and with plenty of upside.
Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - The 5000 m national record holder and former 30 km world record holder, Matsumiya has thus far been mostly a failure at the marathon with only a 2:10:04 PB compared to his stellar 1:28:00 time for 30 km. His identical twin Yuko holds several times under 2:10. Will this finally be the marathon where Takayuki gets serious?
Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express) - Shimizu debuted in 2008 with a solid 2:09:23. He flopped in his follow-up at the 2009 Biwako Mainichi Marathon and has not given much indication of potential for improvement but could surprise. His identical twin Masaya ran last summer's World Championships marathon which should give him added motivation.
Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - The young Kawauchi, who declined the corporate runner lifestyle to take a government job, has run four marathons since debuting in Beppu-Oita last year, PBing each time and finishing a shocking 4th in a sprint finish against 2:07 and 2:08 runners Masakazu Fujiwara, Arata Fujiwara and Atsushi Sato at this year's Tokyo Marathon, just seconds outside the win. He said he would target sub-2:10 Fukuoka and a 10000 m PB this summer showed he is still improving, but a reported split with his personal coach raises questions about his current situation.
Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - A former teammate and training partner of Samuel Wanjiru's, Imai is coached by Barcelona Olympics silver medalist Koichi Morishita and is widely popular and deeply respected in Japan for his three stage-record runs on the Hakone Ekiden's legendary uphill Fifth Stage during his student days. His debut marathon was only a 2:18:34 and his 1:03:28 at October's World Half Marathon suggests even a 2:11 in his Fukuoka follow-up would be ambitious, but people across Japan will be watching Imai closely, hoping to see a glimmer of the greatness he brought to Hakone.
Also in the field but unlikely to make the TV coverage are 59+ world record holder Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods), this year's 100 km world champion Shinji Nakadai (Harriers AC), Japanese duathlon national champion Yuya Fukaura (Harriers AC), and the notorious 2009 Tokyo Marathon Man in the Wig, Nobuaki Takata (Hirakata Masters AC).
Click here to visit the official Fukuoka website. For local race broadcaster KBC's Fukuoka website, which usually features high-quality highlight footage after the race, click here. For course maps click here or here.
2010 Fukuoka International Marathon Elite Field
click here for complete field listing in English
bib number - name - nationality - PB
runners with bibs in the 40's are pacemakers
1. Jaouad Gharib (Morocco) - 2:05:27
2. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:07:15
3. Kebede Tekeste (Ethiopia) - 2:07:23
4. Adam Draczynski (Poland) - 2:10:49
5. Dmitriy Safronov (Russia) - 2:11:51
6. Luis Feiteira (Portugal) - 2:11:57
7. Andrew Lemoncello (U.K.) - 2:13:40
21. Tomoaki Kunichika (Team S&B) - 2:07:52
22. Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:07:55
23. Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:08:37
24. Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:23
25. Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express) - 2:09:23
26. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:10:04
27. Atsushi Ikawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:11:04
51. Kim Min (South Korea) - 2:13:11
53. Fasil Bizuneh (U.S.A.) - 2:16:47
61. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:12:36
62. Kenta Oshima (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:12:54
63. Tomonori Onitsuka (Team Kyudenko) - 2:12:48
64. Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:34
66. Takeshi Ueno (Team JFE Steel) - 2:15:26
67. Norio Kamijo (Team Aichi Seiko) - 2:13:37
68. Toru Okada (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:16:21
69. Tetsuo Nishimura (Team YKK) - 2:14:22
70. Tomohiro Seto (Team Kanebo) - 2:12:21
72. Masatoshi Oike (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:12:15
73. Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:18:34
41. Kohei Matsumura (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki)
42. Eliud Kiptanui (Kenya)
43. Samson Ramadhani (Tanzania)
44. Nicholas Kiprono (Uganda)
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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