The 66th running of the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, known throughout Japan simply as Biwako, takes place this Sunday, Mar. 6. The final selection race for the Japanese men's marathon team for this summer's World Championships, Biwako's elite field this year highlights the disparity in elite Japan's men's marathoning over the last two years.
On the one side is the overseas field of six, without a doubt the best Biwako's organizers have assembled to date. All six have PBs under 2:09, four of them set last year and none older than 2008. Kenyan Wilson Kipsang leads the way with a stellar 2:04:57 mark set at last fall's Frankfurt Marathon. Kipsang is here for one purpose: to do what Ethiopian Olympic medalist Tsegaye Kebede did for the Fukuoka International Marathon in 2009 and give the race a course record on par with the world's best. Kipsang is the heavy favorite, but he faces tough competition from Ethiopia's Deriba Merga, fresh from a dominating win at the Ras al Khaimah Half Marathon last month. Merga races hard and often crashes and burns, but he could be the catalyst Kipsang needs to run a historic mark. The winner will almost certainly be one of these two, the remainder of the overseas field having marks in the 2:08 range.
On the other side of the divide, none of the Japanese invited elites has a PB under 2:11. Top-seeded domestic man Naoto Yoneda (Team Konica Minolta) is out with shin splints, leaving veteran Masashi Hayashi (Team Yakult) as the top-ranked Japanese runner, with a 2:11:17 PB from last year's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. Two other veterans in the general division, Takeshi Hamano (Team Toyota) and Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) hold sub-2:11 marks, Hamano's a 2:09:18 from 2002, and the talented Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda) and Makoto Tobimatsu (Team Yasukawa Denki) will both be debuting, but on paper it looks as though the sub-2:09:30 time requirement for a guaranteed World Championships spot, let alone competing with even a single one of the overseas elites, would require an exceptional performance from any of the Japanese men. Even the minimum goal, beating the 2:10:54 run at Fukuoka by the man currently ranked as the fifth man on the Worlds team, Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta), is likely to be a challenge.
The question being discussed all week in Japan is: will we see the Kawauchi effect? Yuki Kawauchi, a self-trained amateur, ran 2:08:37 at last weekend's Tokyo Marathon off a 2:12:36 PB to pick up one of the five spots on the team for Worlds and shock the industry. Virtually every one of the corporate runners in the Biwako elite field has better credentials than Kawauchi over every distance. Will Kawauchi serve as a wakeup call, a target for the paid professionals making up the domestic field to step up their game? Will we see the Japanese runners ignore the foreigners and run another conservative intramural race to get a ticket to Korea or will we see them inspired to run without fear in pursuit of something higher?
If the latter, it's clear that the country's distance running fans virtually unanimously hope it will be by Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage legend Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), doubling in his third marathon after an aggressive and ambitious but ultimately failed bid for the national team at last December's Fukuoka. In university Imai had the kind of fire Kawauchi held so ably last week, and many will be watching in hopes of seeing it once more.
The Biwako Mainichi Marathon will be broadcast live and commercial-free on NHK beginning at 12:15 p.m. Japan time on Mar. 6th. Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free via Keyhole TV using the password NHK. Click here to visit NHK's secondary race site, which will feature video highlights post race. JRN will again be doing live commentary via Twitter @JRNLive.
2011 Biwako Mainichi Marathon Elite Field
click here for complete field listing
1. Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:04:57 (Frankfurt '10)
2. Deriba Merga (Ethiopia) - 2:06:38 (London '08)
3. Mohamed El Hachimi (Morocco) - 2:08:17 (Seoul '10)
4. Iaroslav Musinchi (Moldova) - 2:08:32 (Dusseldorf '10)
5. Yared Asmerom (Eritrea) - 2:08:34 (Biwako '08)
6. Moses Kangogo (Kenya) - 2:08:58 (Dublin '10)
32. Masashi Hayashi (Team Yakult) - 2:11:17 (Beppu-Oita '10)
33. Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:25 (Tokyo '09)
34. Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:11:42 (Beppu-Oita '10)
35. Satoshi Yoshii (Team Sumco) - 2:12:24 (Biwako '10)
101. Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:13:23 (Fukuoka '10)
102. Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:10:38 (Beppu-Oita '09)
103. Keisuke Wakui (Team Yakult) - 2:13:43 (Beppu-Oita '10)
104. Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:14:00 (Biwako '09)
105. Koichi Sakai (Team Fujitsu) - 2:14:29 (Beijing '09)
106. Shingo Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:14:03 (Tokyo '08)
107. Norihiro Nomiya (Team Toyota) - 2:14:36 (Nobeoka '10)
109. Tomohiro Seto (Team Kanebo) - 2:12:21 (Berlin '07)
111. Yohannes Abera (Ethiopia) - 2:16:14 (Moha '10)
112. Masatoshi Ibata (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:13:26 (Biwako '01)
115. Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:47 (Tokyo '08)
121. Yusuke Kataoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:12:28 (Beijing '07)
127. Takeshi Hamano (Team Toyota) - 2:09:18 (Biwako '02)
142. Kazushi Hara (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:12:11 (Biwako '04)
169. Masahiko Takeyasu (Team Chudenko) - 2:14:18 (Beppu-Oita '08)
227. Koji Gokaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - debut - 1:02:52 (Tachikawa Akishima '09)
228. Hironori Arai (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:04 (Biwako '08)
230. Shingo Mishima (Team Toyota) - debut - 1:02:58 (Jitsugyodan '10)
231. Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda) - debut - 1:02:23 (Kyoto Half '03)
234. Kazuo Ietani (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 2:12:37 (Tokyo Int'l '01)
236. Yoshihiro Yamamoto (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:02:03 (Jitsugyodan '04)
304. Makoto Tobimatsu (Team Yasukawa Denki) - debut - 1:02:26 (Marugame Half '09)
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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