Wilson Kipsang wins in a CR 2:06:13. Click here for video highlights courtesy of NHK.
Like last weekend's Tokyo Marathon, the 2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Biwako for short, was blessed with excellent conditions. The final domestic selection race for this summer's World Championships, Biwako played out as largely according to script as Kenyan Wilson Kipsang broke aggressive Ethiopian rival Deriba Merga over the final kilometers to win in a world-leading course-record 2:06:13, while a young Japanese marathoner, 24 year-old Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei), stepped up with a PB of nearly 2 1/2 minutes to crack the 2:09:30 time requirement for a guaranteed spot on the Worlds team, finishing 3rd in 2:09:25. Despite none of them having a PB under 2:11 versus all six invited foreign elites having PBs under 2:09, the top contingent of Japanese athletes brought A-game, taking seven of the top ten spots, four under 2:11, five with PBs, one in a debut, and one just 2 seconds off his PB.
Somewhat erratic pacing took the pack through halfway just under the targeted 3:00/km pace, splitting 1:03:29. It was too quick for two of the 2:08 foreign elites, with Iaroslav Musinchi (Moldova) dropping off the pack before 5 km and Mohamed El Hachimi (Morocco) losing touch just after 15 km. Ethiopians Merga and Yohannes Abera and Eritrean Yared Asmerom ran up front behind the pacers along with Horibata, coached by the great Takeshi Soh, and pre-race domestic favorite Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), coached by Barcelona Olympics silver medalist Koichi Morishita, while Kenyans Kipsang and Moses Kangogo hung further back, Kipsang at times dropping to the very rear of the large pack and looking in danger of breaking contact. The 189 cm tall Horibata, who fell during the 2009 Tokyo Marathon and had numerous accidents at water stations in last summer's Hokkaido Marathon, survived several collisions around 15 km and near the turnaround at halfway, only to tangle up with Asmerom twice at key mid-race special fluid stations and miss his drinks.
Around halfway Merga and Asmerom threw in the first surge of the race, and while Abera vanished Kipsang and Kangogo seemed to appear at their side out of nowhere. At 24 km Merga made another surge, leading away a pack with Kipsang, Kangogo, Asmerom and one pacer, while a pack of seven Japanese runners held steady at 3:00-3:01 pace with another pacer. The lead quintet opened a margin of around 5 seconds, but by 26 km the Japanese pack had rejoined them to form a lead group of eleven with two pacers.
Shortly afterward Merga surged for real, and only Kipsang was able to go with him. Kangogo and Asmerom tried to follow but trailed off, Asmerom soon swallowed up by the Japanese pack which was now down to four. Merga and Kipsang traded blows, clocking 2:57-2:56-2:56 for the 3 km leading into 30 km, which they passed in 1:29:51 with the chase pack 27 seconds back in 1:30:18. Horibata, looking dead on his feet, took charge at 30 km following the departure of the chase group's pacer, pulling away from the group with Imai in tow on 2:07:00 pace.
With 10 km to go Merga threw in his hardest surge yet, clocking a 2:51 km. Horibata and Imai were making progress on 3rd placer Kangogo as Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) began his own surge and began to inch up on them. Suddenly, the remarkably unlucky Horibata staggered, twisting and grimacing after being clipped hard in the right leg by Imai. It looked for a second as though he might stop, but although Imai waved an apology he took advantage of the break to throw in a surge and gap poor Horibata. Limping and grimacing Horibata fell back and looked in danger of being overtaken by Nakamoto.
Merga and Kipsang settled into a fast cruise, going through 35 km in 1:44:50. Further back, Horibata recovered and, holding off Nakamoto, began to retake Imai who in turn was starting to fade. Horibata and Imai went through 35 km together in 1:46:03 with Nakamoto 5 seconds back. By 37 km Kipsang had a slight gap on Merga, while Horibata likewise began to pull away from Imai. By 38 km both Kipsang and Horibata were on their own, Kipsang splitting 2:48 for the 39th km, Horibata overtaking Kangogo for 3rd, and Nakamoto gong past Imai for 5th.
From there on out it was smooth sailing for Kipsang, who easily broke the course record by 1 1/2 minutes with a world-leading 2:06:13. The two questions for Horibata were whether he could hold on to go under the 2:09:30 Worlds standard and whether he would hold off Nakamoto who had overtaken Kangogo for 4th. Both answers were yes, as he nearly caught Merga, who lost 3 minutes on Kipsang over the last 4 km, for 2nd and cleared the standard by 5 seconds. Nakamoto came a hairsbreadth from also clearing the standard, 4th in a PB of 2:09:31. Imai, in his second bid for the World Championships team, ran a nearly 3-minute PB of 2:10:41 but could not put himself into the bracket for Worlds consideration.
Kipsang said afterwards that he knew the pace was getting too slow for his targeted 2:05 in the third quarter of the race but was delighted with his new record nonetheless. Horibata, gasping and looking pale and dizzy, was ecstatic at securing a spot on the Worlds team and said he was very, very satsified with beating Imai after being tripped. Overall it was an outstanding day for the home team, with two more men breaking 2:10 to bring the number up to four for the year to date, suggesting that the post-Beijing malaise that has gripped Japanese marathoning for the last two years is finally over as a younger generation moves up. Now confirmed for the World team are Asian Games silver medalist Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN), 2:08:37 amateur Yuki Kawauchi, and Horibata. In contention for the remaining two spots and alternate slot are Tokyo runner-up Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota), 4th in 2:09:03 in his marathon debut, Nakamoto, Beppu-Oita 3rd placer Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) with a 2:10:29 clocking, and Fukuoka 3rd placer Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta), who ran 2:10:54. The team lineup will be announced following next weekend's Nagoya International Women's Marathon, the final women's selection race.
2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
1. Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:06:13 - CR
2. Deriba Merga (Ethiopia) - 2:09:13
3. Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:25 - PB
4. Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:09:31 - PB
5. Moses Kangogo (Kenya) - 2:09:48
6. Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:10:41 - PB
7. Satoshi Yoshii (Team Sumco) - 2:10:44 - PB
8. Satoru Kasuya (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 2:11:17 - PB
9. Masashi Hayashi (Team Yakult) - 2:11:19
10. Koji Gokaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:07 - debut
13. Mohamed El Hachimi (Morocco) - 2:12:36
15. Yohannes Abera (Ethiopia) - 2:12:44 - PB
22. Iaroslav Musinchi (Moldova) - 2:14:20
35. Dan Hornery (Australia) - 2:19:40
90. Yuya Fukaura (Harriers AC) - 2:27:02 - PB (nat'l duathlon champion)
DNF - Yared Asmerom (Eritera)
DNF - Jason Woolhouse (New Zealand)