Skip to main content

Ndambiri With the Win, Kawauchi With the Wonder - Fukuoka International Marathon

by Brett Larner
photos by Dr. Helmut Winter


Ndambiri for the win. Click photo for video highlights courtesy of KBC TV.  Click here for a sequence of photos from throughout the race via KBC.

In many ways the 65th Fukuoka International Marathon played out according to script, but in the details it worked out to be the most memorable edition since Samuel Wanjiru's debut in 2007.  Longtime Japan resident and 10000 m all-comers record holder Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) made a good transition to the marathon, winning his debut in a solid 2:07:36.  Veteran James Mwangi (Kenya/Team NTN) took two minutes off his four-year-old PB to finish an elated 2nd in 2:08:38.  And in the Japanese men's race for an Olympic spot, what initially looked like a replay of amateur Yuki Kawauchi's thrilling come-from-behind run at Tokyo in February turned into a brutal, knockdown battle of surges between pre-race favorites Kawauchi and former Hakone Ekiden star Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu).

The race went more or less on-schedule through 20 km.  Absent some of the foreign elites all the key players were in place, but having already fallen back once together at 15 km Kawauchi and 2010 runner-up Dmitriy Safronov (Russia) again lost touch with the pack at the 20 km water station.  At 25 km, 10 seconds off-target in 1:15:10, the pacers departed, leaving a comfortable Ndambiri in the lead.  Looking around and then wasting no time in making his decision, Ndambiri rocketed the next 5 km in 14:32 to say a permanent goodbye to the rest of the field.  He went through 35 km in 1:44:39, on-pace for 2:06:10, before slowing to cross the line in 2:07:36.  With a good debut behind him it seems likely that we'll see Ndambiri overseas in the spring in a bid for the Kenyan Olympic marathon team like Wanjiru four years ago.

Mwangi tried to follow Ndambiri but was immediately on his own, running alone all the way to his 2:08:38 PB finish.  Coached by Barcelona Olympics marathon silver medalist Koichi Morishita and revered in Japan for his three years of heroics on Hakone's celebrated uphill Fifth Stage, Imai, 2009 World Championships marathoner Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) and Irish star Alistair Cragg formed the chase pack with 2005 Fukuoka winner Dmytro Baranovskyy just behind.  Cragg very shortly dropped out of the pack, and then the race, but Imai and Maeda were joined by a surging Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku).  The Japanese trio passed 30 km in 1:30:50 with Baranovskyy trailing.  23 seconds back, Safronov and Kawauchi, whose face showed the same strain and agony it did in the last 3 km at Tokyo.  At the 30 km mark Maeda made a move to put Okamoto away, and Imai went with him.  The pair worked together, but absent any external pressure their pace began to slip.

Safronov and Kawauchi likewise worked together to begin making up ground until Kawauchi lost patience and made a move at 33.2 km, his first time going ahead of the Russian.  Safronov responded and the two passed first Baranovskyy and then the fading Okamoto.  With Imai and Maeda coming into range Kawauchi made another surge, dropping Safronov and closing the gap to his rivals for an Olympic spot.  At 36 km a spectator yelled, "Go Kawauchi!" loudly, and, hearing him, Imai looked back.  And the action began.

Imai picked up the pace, Maeda tagging along as they tried to keep their margin over the fast-closing Kawauchi.  Kawauchi responded by turning it all on, blowing by them even more aggressively than he did against Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) and Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable) in Tokyo.  The difference was that in Tokyo the move came at 39 km.  Here, it was 36.4 km.  Maeda tried to follow, and when Kawauchi tired from his surge Maeda was right back with him.  Imai took longer to regain contact, but when he did Kawauchi took off again at 38.5 km.  This time Maeda was gone for good.

Imai came back at 39.3 km, and it became the kind of race organizers dream about, two intensely popular runners going for the throat one against the other for their Olympic dream.  Imai surged. Kawauchi surged.  Imai!  Kawauchi!  If you weren't a fan of the sport this was the kind of race that would make you one, and if you were you'd be jumping and shouting like thirty of us were in a sushi place in the mountains west of Tokyo.  Surge, attack, counter, on and on until finally Kawauchi, able or willing to go somewhere Imai couldn't, went to the limit at 40 km to break Imai down.  Kawauchi clocked 6:50 for the final 2.195 km, the fastest in the field by 18 seconds and 22 seconds faster than Ndambiri's closing split.  That's 16 seconds a mile at the finish.  Across the line in 2:09:57, a characteristic collapse, oxygen on a stretcher, and a tearful Imai empty-handed and desolate except for the minor consolation of a 9-second PB.

In the bigger scheme of things you may say, "Who cares?  2:09 is 2 km behind the best Kenyans." "The top Japanese men ran 2:07 at the last two Olympic selection-year Fukuokas.  This only shows how far Japanese marathoning has fallen."  It's true, 2:09:57 and 3rd place isn't that competitive and is not good enough to guarantee Kawauchi a spot on the Olympic team.  But with a race like this he sure as hell deserves it.  2:09:57 puts him into a new place, one where Tokyo wasn't just a Hollywood miracle, one where he is the real thing.  Under extreme media attention and hype, including ridiculous ads for the Fukuoka broadcast showing him running in a business suit wearing a backpack, the self-training Kawauchi stuck to his principles and did things his way.  He went up against the elite, one of Hakone's greatest stars, one coached by an Olympic silver medalist who took another runner to Olympic gold.  And rejoice, for he conquered.  If the federation picks him or no, he's got nothing to prove to anybody.


Look for Kawauchi to run the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon in two weeks and the next Olympic selection race, February's Tokyo Marathon.

2011 Fukuoka International Marathon
Fukuoka, 12/4/11
click here for complete results and splits

1. Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) - 2:07:36 - debut
2. James Mwangi (Kenya/Team NTN) - 2:08:38 - PB
3. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:09:57
4. Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:10:32 - PB
5. Dmitriy Safronov (Russia) - 2:11:29
6. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:11:46
7. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:12:08
8. Martin Dent (Australia) - 2:12:23 - PB
9. Ridouane Harroufi (Morocco) - 2:13:40
10. Aleksei Sokolov (Russia) - 2:14:00
-----
DNF - Alistair Cragg (Ireland)
DNF - Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods)

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

photos (c) 2011 Dr. Helmut Winter
all rights reserved

Comments

brent said…
Awesome recap Brett. Thanks. I was only able to watch the first 5k online. Should have stayed up for the rest.
colin said…
Great recap. I watched the last 15km of the race, and it was the most exciting marathon finish that I have seen in a long time. Kawauchi is incredible.
Sergio_CR said…
Hi Brent,

I wonder why do Josphat Ndambiri and James Mwangi are listed as japanese on their registration at Fukuoka Marathon. Do they have double nacionality?

All the best,

Sergio
Brett Larner said…
As far as I know it is because they are both Japan-resident and, as such, are registered with the Japanese federation. The organizers thus put them in the Japanese general division rather than the foreign one. That was the case when I ran Fukuoka, at any rate.
誠人 said…
Brett, I found a video on Youtube of the last 15 minutes of the race. Here it is:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzWtbYGBSAk.
Brett Larner said…
Fantastic, thank you.

Most-Read This Week

One Month Until the Japanese Olympic Marathon Trials

It's one month to go until what's bound to be the best marathon of 2019, Japan's 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon trials, the Sept. 15 Marathon Grand Championship Race. Up to now Japan has typically picked its Olympic and World Championships marathon teams based on performances in a series of specific races, primarily the Fukuoka International Marathon, Tokyo Marathon and Lake Biwa Marathon for men, and the Saitama International Marathon, Osaka International Women's Marathon and Nagoya Women's Marathon for women. This time around they're going with a U.S.-style one-shot trials race, the MGC Race.

People had a nearly two-year window from August, 2017 to April this year to hit tough standards to qualify. Only 34 men and 15 women made it, and after withdrawals for the Doha World Championships the MGC Race's final entry list is just 31 men and 12 women. Swedish Athletics Federation official Lorenzo Nesicalled it "the most difficult marathon race ever to quali…

MGC Race Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier - Naoki Okamoto

Naoki Okamotoage: 35
sponsor: Chugoku Denryoku
graduated from: Tottori Chuo Ikuei H.S., Meiji University

best time inside MGC window:
2:11:29, 1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon

PB: 2:11:29, 1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon

other PBs:
5000 m: 13:37.71 (2009) 10000 m: 28:05.84 (2011) half marathon: 1:02:16 (2009)

marathons inside MGC window (Aug. 1 2017 – April 30 2019)
DNF, 2019 Beppu-Oita Marathon
1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon, 2:11:29 – PB
DNF, 2018 Boston Marathon

other major results:
4th, 2019 Shibetsu Half Marathon, 1:03:53
2nd, 2019 New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.4 km), 1:05:13
1st, 2018 Chugoku Corporate Ekiden Sixth Stage (19.0 km), 56:25 – CR
1st, 2018 Ome 30 km Road Race, 1:33:09
21st, 2017 Tokyo Marathon, 2:13:53

We’re picking Okamoto as our official dark horse of the men’s race. The second-oldest man in a field, Okamoto is a journeyman corporate leaguer who never broke 2:12 and whose PBs all came a decade ago. But, nearing the end of his career, over the last two years he has really come on…

Running the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Marathon Course Part Three - Men's Marathon and Overall Summary

Today marks one year until the men's marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. For the third time in the last week, once last Friday with one year to go to the Olympic women's marathon, once on Monday with a likely competitor in the men's marathon, and again today, I ran most of the Olympic marathon course taking temperature and humidity readings every half an hour to get a handle on what kind of conditions athletes in each race can expect to be facing. Between the three runs I covered about 80 km, and including the two times I did it last summer two years out from the women's marathon and men's marathon about 135 km, on the Olympic course. To get it out of the way off the bat, a couple of days ago a few readers told me that the Buy Me A Coffee button wasn't working. I think the problem has been fixed, so if you're so inclined please feel free to use it. Your support for JRN is always really appreciated.

And now on to the run.


This time out I went to the start …