by Brett Larner
The Tokyo Marathon has announced the elite field for this year's fifth running, to be held Feb. 27. Following through on his pre-retirement crisis promise, world record holder Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) will return to the marathon distance after his DNF at November's New York City Marathon.
Gebrselassie faces what is without a doubt the strongest field in Tokyo's short history, including 2010 and 2009 winners Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) and Salim Kipsang (Kenya), 2010 Biwako Mainichi Marathon winner Yemane Tsegaye (Ethiopia), 2010 Hokkaido Marathon winner Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable), 2008 Kenyan XC champion Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) in his marathon debut, recent 2:07 man Paul Biwott (Kenya), 2:07 runner and former teammate of Fujiwara's Hailu Mekonnen (Ethiopia), veteran great Felix Limo (Kenya), top-ranked Japanese debutant Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota), and, thus far unsuccessful at the marathon in his first two attempts, sub-hour half marathoner Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Aidem). It will not be an easy task for aging legend Haile to add another win to his legacy.
As a domestic selection race for the 2011 World Championships marathon team, Tokyo has also attracted a number of strong contenders led by Honda's defending champion Fujiwara and 2011 New Year Ekiden champion Toyota's Oda. The top Japanese man will earn a guaranteed spot on the World Championships team provided he breaks 2:09:30, which, despite Tokyo's potentially fast course, has remained difficult thus far due to atrocious weather in three of the four runnings to date.
Fujiwara, who holds the collegiate and debut marathon national records thanks to his 2:08:12 PB run at the 2003 Biwako Mainichi Marathon, won last year's Tokyo with a patient run and brilliant surge at 40 km amid freezing rain and sleet before following up with a weak 2:12:00 at September's Berlin Marathon. Oda, a sub-62 half marathoner, broke 28 for 10000 m for the first time last fall at the top of his marathon training and looks poised for the best Japanese marathon debut of the year.
Ekiden specialist Keita Akiba (Team Komori Corp.) had an excellent debut at the 2009 Beppu-Oita Marathon and may be the best bet for a major breakthrough in his follow-up marathon after a stage win at this year's New Year Ekiden. Veterans Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) and Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) have fallen on hard times in the last year but have solid credentials and World Championship experience. Despite disappointing performances in their most recent marathons, three runners from outside the corporate team system, 2008 Hokkaido Marathon winner and impending head coach of national champion Saku Chosei H.S. Masaru Takamizawa, two-time Tokyo runner-up Arata Fujiwara (Remo System RC) and last year's surprise 4th placer Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) also add interest should they wind up in contention for a spot. If there is a dark horse to watch out for it is former half marathon junior national record holder Hideaki Date (Team Chugoku Denryoku), spectacularly talented while at Tokai University and all but invisible since going pro, in his marathon debut.
The Tokyo Marathon's women's race is not a national team selection event but includes a field at least as strong as those already announced for the Jan. 30 Osaka and Feb. 20 Yokohama women's marathons. Former national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo) makes a return to the marathon alongside teammates Reiko Tosa and Miki Ohira after nearly two years of injury and motivation issues. Shibui claims she will not race seriously, but even so she is likely to be among the leaders. Her strongest domestic competitor is 2009 Hokkaido Marathon winner and course record holder Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC), the wife of men's elite Takamizawa. Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei), a teammate of 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki, and Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal), a training partner of 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi, will also be lining up for their marathon debuts with solid sub-71 half marathon credentials.
Four of the five overseas elites hail from eastern Europe, including Romanian Nuta Olaru and 2010 Dublin Marathon winner Tatiana Aryasova (Russia). The lone African woman is two-time Ottawa Marathon winner Asmae Leghzaoui (Morocco), meaning that along with men's elite Arata Fujiwara this year's Tokyo Marathon features both Ottawa Marathon course record holders.
Look for detailed JRN pre- and post-race coverage of this year's Tokyo Marathon in the weeks to come.
2011 Tokyo Marathon Elite Field
click here for complete elite field listing
1. Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) - 2:03:59 (Berlin 2008) - WR
2. Felix Limo (Kenya) - 2:06:14 (Rotterdam 2004)
3. Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) - 2:06:30 (Paris 2009)
4. Paul Biwott (Kenya) - 2:07:02 (Amsterdam 2009)
5. Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:07:29 (Berlin 2007)
6. Hailu Mekonnen (Ethiopia) - 2:07:37 (Amsterdam 2010)
7. Abraham Tadesse (Ethiopia) - 2:09:24 (Berlin 2010)
8. Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable) - 2:11:22 (Hokkaido 2010)
9. Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - debut - 59:50 (Nagoya Half 2009)
11. Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) - 2:08:12 (Biwako 2003)
12. Arata Fujiwara (Remo System RC) - 2:08:40 (Tokyo 2008)
13. Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:23 (Fukuoka 2008)
14. Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (Tokyo Int'l 2004)
15. Keita Akiba (Team Komori Corp.) - 2:10:53 (Beppu-Oita 2009)
16. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:12:35 (Tokyo 2010)
17. Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:04 (Tokyo 2010)
18. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:23:06 (Tokyo 2010)
19. Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - debut - 1:01:41 (Jitsugyodan Half 2009)
101. Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 2:12:10 (Hokkaido 2008)
106. Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Aidem) - 2:16:38 (Hokkaido 2010)
139. Hideaki Date (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - debut - 1:02:08 (Ageo City Half 2004)
21. Nuta Olaru (Romania) - 2:24:33 (Chicago 2004)
22. Tatiana Petrova (Russia) - 2:25:53 (Dubai 2009)
23. Tatiana Aryasova (Russia) - 2:26:13 (Dublin 2010)
24. Asmae Leghzaoui (Morocco) - 2:27:41 (Ottawa 2009)
25. Olena Burkovska (Ukraine) - 2:28:31 (Berlin 2010)
31. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:19:41 (Berlin 2004)
32. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:25:41 (Hokkaido 2010)
33. Yumi Hirata (Team Shiseido) - 2:29:23 (Nagoya Int'l 2008)
34. Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) - debut - 1:10:27 (Miyaki Women's Half 2010)
35. Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) - debut - 1:10:57 (Marugame Half 2010)
201. Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:22:46 (London 2002)
202. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:26:09 (Osaka 2008)
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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