by Brett Larner
Race broadcaster KBC has published the sixteen-man elite field for the 65th anniversary of the Fukuoka International Marathon, scheduled for Dec. 4. The first of the three domestic selection races for the Japanese men's marathon team for the London Olympics, Fukuoka's organizers have gone an unusual route in setting up the overseas field with not a single invited Kenyan or Ethiopian athlete. 2005 Fukuoka winner Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) has run the fastest three times of his career in Fukuoka and returns to lead the foreign contingent along with Russian national record holder Aleksei Sokolov and last year's runner-up Dmitriy Safronov, also Russian. Moroccan Ridouane Harroufi is the lone African among the invited athletes. Perhaps of greatest interest, Ireland's Alistair Cragg will be looking to finish his first marathon with a mark that does justice to his excellent 1:00:49 half marathon from this past spring. Franck de Almeida (Brazil), Martin Dent (Australia) and Andrew Lemoncello (Great Britain) fill in the second tier of 2:12-2:13 athletes.
Amid the surprising lack of invited Africans, hidden in the depths of the general division A-group is 26:57.36 Japanese 10000 m all-comers' record holder Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) lining up for his marathon debut. Having beaten 10000 m world champion Ibrahim Jeilan (Ethiopia/Team Honda) to win the Nov. 3 East Japan Corporate Ekiden Second Stage Ndambiri is clearly fit, and with even a credible effort he should be considered a favorite for the win. The other Japan-based Kenyan in the general division, James Mwangi (Team NTN), has a 2:10:27 PB to his name but with a 1:00:34 half best since then could also factor into the faster end of the race. On his team profile Mwangi says his goal is "Fukuoka to London Olympics." As unlikely as that may be given what Kenya has done to the marathoning world this year, it may be an indication that he plans to take things out fast.
With an Olympic ticket available to the top-finishing Japanese man, looking at the domestic field there is a clear split between veterans trying for one last chance for Olympic glory and young athletes still on the upswing. 2000 Fukuoka winner and former national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) is at the forefront of the veteran category with a PB of 2:06:51 and has spent the entire year focusing on his preparations for Fukuoka after finishing 5th at Beppu-Oita in February. 2:09 men Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) and Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) have had stabler careers than Fujita but both have declined in recent years, particularly Irifune. Sato comes to Fukuoka after a string of good performances early this month at the eight-day Grand Tour Kyushu 2011 ekiden and may have the best chances among the veterans despite his coach saying his training is only at 80%. Past sub-2:09 men Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) are other big-name veterans in the general division. Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) is also a name worth flagging, in the general division as he comes off an injury.
There is no question that the favorite in the public eye is one of the youngest in the field, amateur runner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.). Kawauchi has become a celebrity since his resonant 2:08:37 earlier this year, with TV commercials for the Fukuoka broadcast focusing exclusively on him. He ran 2:16:11 at the Daegu World Championships, then the third-fastest time of his career, and returned Oct. 30 with a training run-effort 2:14:31 at the inaugural Osaka Marathon. He is talking about running 2:07, a time not even the foreign field is guaranteed of meeting. There's certainly precedent as the top Japanese man at the last two Olympic selection editions of Fukuoka has run 2:07, three of them doing it before Athens. If Kawauchi follows through and proves that his 2:08 in Tokyo was not just a miraculously perfect day, it will be up to the rest of the young field to step up their game to match him. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) and Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) are the most likely to do it.
Maeda had a good marathon debut in tough conditions at the 2009 Tokyo Marathon, picking up a place on the Berlin World Championships team. Berlin was a failure, and for much of the next year he was out injury. Returning to the marathon in February, he outran Fujita to finish 3rd in a PB of 2:10:29. With excellent track credentials he has the potential to run the marathon much faster. Imai is one of the most popular runners of his generation thanks to his inspiring, record-setting runs on the Hakone Ekiden's uphill Fifth Stage while in university. After a mediocre marathon debut he ran tough at last year's Fukuoka Marathon only to fade in the final kilometers. Turning around and running Lake Biwa three months later he set his current PB of 2:10:41. Five days later he was watching his mother on TV being rescued by helicopter from the tsunami that destroyed his hometown in Fukushima. With steady improvement in his three marathons and motivation to inspire his friends and family back home Imai may also be ready for a big breakthrough. Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei), Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) and, in the general division, Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) round out the Japanese contenders with good second-tier performances in the last year.
The Fukuoka International Marathon will be broadcast live and should be available online for overseas viewers. Check back closer to race date for a further preview and online viewing information.
2011 Fukuoka International Marathon Elite Field
and top general division entrants
click here for official elite field listing
Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - 2:06:51 (Fukuoka 2000)
Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:07:15 (Fukuoka 2006)
Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:07:55 (Fukuoka 2003)
Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:37 (Tokyo 2011)
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:08:37 (Fukuoka 2003)
Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:08:54 (Biwako 2008)
Aleksei Sokolov (Russia) - 2:09:07 (Dublin 2007)
Takeshi Hamano (Team Toyota) - 2:09:18 (Biwako 2002)
Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:23 (Fukuoka 2008)
Dmitriy Safronov (Russia) - 2:09:35 (London 2011)
Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (Tokyo Int'l 2004)
Kurao Umeki (Hiroshima T&F Assoc.) - 2:09:52 (Berlin 2003)
Ridouane Harroufi (Morocco) - 2:10:14 (Seoul 2008)
James Mwangi (Kenya/Team NTN) - 2:10:27 (Vienna 2007)
Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:10:29 (Beppu-Oita 2011)
Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:10:41 (Biwako 2011)
Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:25 (Tokyo 2009)
Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:44 (Biwako 2010)
Franck de Almeida (Brazil) - 2:12:32 (Paris 2008)
Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:44 (Fukuoka 2010)
Kenta Oshima (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:12:54 (Tokyo 2009)
Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:16 (Gold Coast 2011)
Martin Dent (Australia) - 2:13:27 (Beppu-Oita 2010)
Andrew Lemoncello (Great Britain) - 2:13:40 (London 2010)
Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:54 (Tokyo 2011)
Alistair Cragg (Ireland) - 1:00:49 (NYC Half 2011)
Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) - debut - 26:57.36 (Fukuroi 2009)
Yuya Fukaura (Harriers AC) - national duathlon champion
Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) - 59+ world record holder
Shinji Nakadai (Harriers AC) - 2010 world champion, 100 km
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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