by Brett Larner
all photos by Dr. Helmut Winter
Update: Last year's 4th place finisher Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) has withdrawn with lower back pain problems.
The most anticipated Japanese marathon in years is here. The second of three Japanese men's selection races for the London Olympics, the 2012 Tokyo Marathon looks set to get them back on track with the fast times that have dried up since Beijing. The women's race is competitive despite an almost total absence of elite Japanese women, and former marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie is slated to try for what would undoubtedly be his final Olympic appearance. It's going to be a big day, and the weather looks good at this stage. You can follow along with Nihon TV's broadcast via Keyhole TV or via JRN's live Twitter commentary @JRNLive, both beginning at 9:00 a.m. Japan time on Sunday.
Looking first at the women's race, it seems somehow self-defeating that with a multiple-race Olympic selection procedure domestic runners cannot participate against a strong international elite field in an IAAF gold label race in one of the world's great cities in their own country if they want to go to the Olympics. Tokyo is not among the races at which Japanese women can qualify for the Olympic team. The only two world-class Japanese women originally entered in Tokyo, Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.), both bowed out of the chance to run against 2:23 and 2:24 Africans in Tokyo to instead run the Nagoya selection race against a domestic field with only a token international component. That leaves the up-and-coming Eri Okubo (Second Wind AC) and the past-her-prime Yumiko Hara (Team Univ Ent.) to try to find a spot in the sizeable prize money among the nine foreign elites, the best of whom include Venice Marathon course record holder Helena Loshanyang Kirop (Kenya) and the strong Ethiopian duo of Atsede Habtamu and Eyerusalem Kuma, all sub-2:25 women. Yes, there are a lot of politics involved with respecting other races' territory and with keeping the focus on the men, but having only two second-tier domestic women among eleven elites in the country's premier gold label marathon is an embarrassment, period. Look for Kirop, Habtamu and Kuma to vie for the upper end of the prize purse with a possible challenge from Russian Tatiana Arkhipova, who was bumped up from 3rd to 2nd in last year's Tokyo results when Russian Tatyana Aryasova tested positive for a masking agent after winning.
In the men's race, Haile needs a fast time in Tokyo to make the Ethiopian Olympic team, and after a DNF at the 2010 New York City Marathon, a DNS at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon and another DNF at the 2011 Berlin Marathon it doesn't look good. The talk was originally of him going for a controlled 2:05, but with a raft of young, relatively unknown Ethiopians running 2:04 and 2:05 in Dubai last month the pressure is on him for something faster. If he is fit and motivated his most likely competitor is Kenyan Jafred Chirchir Kipchumba, who ran an excellent 2:05:48 to win last year's Eindhoven Marathon, something that would have seemed improbable a few years ago. 2009 Frankfurt Marathon winner Gilbert Kipruto Kirwa (Kenya) and Eindhoven 3rd-placer Michael Kipkorir Kipyego both have sub-2:07 marks and should also factor into the front of the race.
2011 Enschede Marathon winner Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) and defending Tokyo champion Hailu Mekonnen (Ethiopian) both have 2:07 wins to their name, and at that level if they are not among the leaders they are ideally placed where the top Japanese men are hoping to run. Longer shots among the foreign competition are Tokyo course record holder Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland), 2011 Bila Tserkva winner Oleksandr Sitkovsky (Ukraine) and sub-hour half-marathoner Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya).
Which brings us to the Japanese men. With World Championships marathon 7th-placer Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) and all three of the top Japanese finishers at the first London Olympics selection race in Fukuoka running again in either Tokyo or Biwako the Olympic team is completely open. Tokyo is hosting a great domestic field including the fastest Japanese men of 2010 and 2011, the only Japanese man to win Tokyo, a national record holder and more. Things have slowly been turning around since the system broke down at the Beijing Olympics, and the momentum currently with the best men suggests it could take a 2:07 to make the London team in Tokyo. If times are at the 2:07 to 2:08 level in Tokyo two people could qualify. It's entirely possible that someone could run that and still not make it. Of the main contenders for the Olympic team we break them down into three groups of five.
Yuki Kawauchi (2:08:37, Saitama Pref.) has been the face of Japanese marathoning for the last year since his stirring 2:08:37 breakthrough at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon. Consistent in doing things his own way, he was the top Japanese man at the Fukuoka selection race in 2:09:57 but said that his real target was a 2:07 in Tokyo. Only eleven Japanese men have ever broken 2:08, but relative to his 1:02:40 and 2:08:37 bests last February Kawauchi's 1:02:18 half-marathon PB earlier this month in Marugame puts him right where he needs to be to join the club.
Yoshinori Oda - Withdrawn (2:09:03, Team Toyota) is best-known for getting broken by Kawauchi at the 39 km point in Tokyo last year, but the quality of his 2:09:03 debut there, the third-fastest debut ever by a Japanese man, was largely overlooked. Achilles problems hit him at the Daegu World Championships, but with a good 10000 m mid-fall and a passably strong run at the New Year Ekiden it looks like he has been building back to full fitness. Nevertheless, he looks like the weakest choice out of the top five.
Arata Fujiwara (2:08:40, Tokyo T&F Assoc.) had a bad 2011 with serial injury and career setbacks. Training quietly on his own, he came from out of nowhere in Marugame earlier this month with a 1:01:34, a PB by over 40 seconds, to re-establish himself as a leading Olympic contender. His marathon career is too checkered to make a prediction, but everything suggests he is ready for his biggest run yet.
Masakazu Fujiwara (2:08:12, Team Honda) is the only Japanese man to have won the Tokyo Marathon, outrunning Kawauchi, Arata Fujiwara and half-marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) to win in the sleet and freezing hell of the 2010 race. He is also the collegiate and debut marathon national record holder with a best of 2:08:12. He ran well in the fall and winter with a strong performance at the New Year Ekiden, so in what is likely his last chance to make an Olympic team look for him to finally capitalize on the unrealized potential shown in his 2:08 debut.
Yuki Iwai (debut, Team Asahi Kasei) is the darkhorse of the Japanese field, debuting at the very bottom of the general elite division rather than among the invited runners. A sub-28 10000 m runner, Iwai ran on the track at the 2009 World Championships but has been injured ever since. He popped up with a superb performance at the New Year Ekiden, then went sub-62 for the first time at Marugame. He seems to be coming into his marathon debut in Tokyo under the radar, but intuition says he is ready to surprise.
Kazuhiro Maeda (2:10:29, Team Kyudenko) was the top Japanese man at the 2009 Tokyo Marathon in his debut and has had a few good marathon performances since then. The 3rd Japanese man at Fukuoka behind Kawauchi and Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), he is trying again to make the Olympic team.
Takayuki Matsumiya (2:10:04, Team Konica Minolta) is the 5000 m and 30 km national record holder and the former world record holder for 30 km. Despite these credentials he has not yet performed up to potential at the marathon. Matsumiya also ran well at the New Year Ekiden.
Takaaki Koda (2:11:08, Team Asahi Kasei) was solid at last year's Tokyo Marathon with a 2:11:08. He won January's Osaka Half Marathon, and with the strong history of Asahi Kasei behind him it wouldn't be surprising to see him improve on last year.
Satoru Kasuya (2:11:17, Team Toyota Boshoku) finished second in Osaka behind Koda by only two seconds. A former anchor of Komazawa University's Hakone Ekiden team, he had a good PB at Biwako last year and could also step up.
Yusei Nakao (2:14:43, Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) has some of Japan's best track credentials and was 5th at the 2008 World Half Marathon Championships, but he has not had the same success in the marathon yet. Injuries in 2010 and a team change last year kept him out of the public eye, but he has improved steadily over the winter ekiden season.
The Long Shots
Seiji Kobayashi (2:10:38, Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) is a likable veteran with a 2:10 best from 2009. His performances have trailed off somewhat but he has pulled out big runs in the past.
Atsushi Ikawa (2:11:04, Team Otsuka Seiyaku) is coached by 2:06 runner Takayuki Inubushi. After a promising debut at the 2010 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon he DNF'd in Fukuoka and was a DNS at last year's Ottawa Marathon.
Satoshi Irifune (2:09:23, Team Kanebo) has run in two World Championships marathons and has multiple 2:09's to his name, but it has been a few years since he has run on a par with his best.
Tomoya Adachi (2:11:59, Team Asahi Kasei) won the 2008 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in his debut but has not yet matched that performance in several attempts.
Tomoya Shimizu (2:09:23, Team Sagawa Express) was a surprise with a 2:09:23 at Biwako in the last Olympic qualifying round but has not been able to return to that level since then.
2012 Tokyo Marathon
Tokyo, Feb. 26, 2012
click here for detailed field listing
1. Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) - 2:03:59 (Berlin 2008)
2. Jafred Chirchir Kipchumba (Kenya) - 2:05:48 (Eindhoven 2011)
3. Gilbert Kipruto Kirwa (Kenya) - 2:06:14 (Frankfurt 2009)
4. Michael Kipkorir (Kenya) - 2:06:48 (Eindhoven 2011)
5. Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) - 2:07:20 (Enschede 2011)
6. Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland) - 2:07:23 (Tokyo 2008)
7. Hailu Mekonnen (Ethiopia) - 2:07:35 (Tokyo 2011)
8. Oleksandr Sitkovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:09:26 (Bila Tserkva 2011)
11. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:37 (Tokyo 2011)
13. Arata Fujiwara (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:08:40 (Tokyo 2008)
14. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:10:29 (Beppu-Oita 2011)
15. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:10:04 (Rotterdam 2007)
16. Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:08 (Tokyo 2011)
17. Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) - 2:08:12 (Biwako 2003)
101. Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:10:38 (Beppu-Oita 2009)
102. Atsushi Ikawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:11:04 (Beppu-Oita 2010)
103. Satoru Kasuya (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 2:11:17 (Biwako 2011)
104. Takashi Horiguchi (Team Honda) - 2:12:05 (Tokyo 2011)
105. Koji Gokaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:07 (Biwako 2011)
106. Masaki Shimoju (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:12:18 (Nobeoka 2010)
107. Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:23 (Fukuoka 2008))
110. Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:59 (Beppu-Oita 2008)
113. Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express) - 2:09:23 (Biwako 2008)
118. Yusei Nakao (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:14:43 (Tokyo 2009)
119. Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya) - 2:14:44 (Tokyo 2011)
151. Kazuyoshi Shimozato (Team Komori Corp.) - 1:30:36 (30 km)
155. Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei) - 1:01:58 (half-marathon)
click here for complete field listing
21. Helena Loshanyang Kirop (Kenya) - 2:23:37 (Venice 2011)
22. Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia) - 2:24:25 (Berlin 2011)
23. Eyerusalem Kuma (Ethiopia) - 2:24:55 (Amsterdam 2011)
24. Tatiana Arkhipova (Russia) - 2:25:01 (Berlin 2011)
26. Yeshi Esayias (Ethiopia) - 2:26:04 (Daegu 2011)
27. Rosaria Console (Italy) - 2:26:10 (Berlin 2011)
28. Lishan Dula (Bahrain) - 2:26:56 (Rotterdam 2011)
29. Kateryna Stetsenko (Ukraine) - 2:27:51 (Ukraine 2010)
30. Adriana da Silva (Brazil) - 2:32:30 (Berlin 2010)
33. Eri Okubo (Second Wind AC) - 2:28:49 (Berlin 2011)
35. Yumiko Hara (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:23:48 (Osaka Int'l 2007)
201. Yuko Machida (Hanno T&F Assoc.) - 2:29:35 (Nagoya 2009)
202. Sumiko Suzuki (Team Hokuren) - 2:32:02 (Tokyo 2011)
203. Yumi Hirata (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:29:23
205. Chinami Fukaminato (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:34:16 (Hokkaido 2009)
217. Minami Yamanouchi (Koriyama Hosei H.S. AC) - 2:47:41 (Ohtawara 2011)
240. Ayumi Sakaida (Team Daihatsu) - debut - 1:13:23 (half-marathon)
241. Kazuki Nakano (Josai Univ.) - debut - 1:16:50 (half-marathon)
Designated Men's Pacers
55. Samuel Tsegay (Eritrea)
56. Mulugeta Wami (Ethiopia)
57. Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable)
58. Kazuyuki Ito (Team JR Higashi Nihon)
59. Bedan Karoki (Kenya/Team S&B)
Designated Women's Pacers
67. Kosuke Tsuji (Team Otsuka Seiyaku)
68. Yohei Nishiyama (Team Otsuka Seiyaku)
69. Hiroki Mitsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku)
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved
photos (c) 2012 Dr. Helmut Winter
all rights reserved