by Brett Larner
photos by Dr. Helmut Winter
2012 Tokyo Marathon played out to the patient, with top three women Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia), Yeshi Esayias (Ethiopia) and Helena Loshanyang Kirop (Kenya) and top three men Michael Kipyego Kipkorir (Kenya), Arata Fujiwara (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) and Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) all running down the early leaders in the final kilometers to finish on the podium.
Habtamu ran 2:25:28 for the Tokyo women's course record, while 4th-place woman Eri Okubo (Second Wind AC) ran a PB of 2:26:08, faster than the winning time at the Yokohama International Women's Marathon Olympic selection race, after setting off alone at 2:22 pace. Kipyego, Fujiwara and Kiprotich all ran under 2:08, Kipyego taking the win in 2:07:37 and Fujiwara becoming the all-time 7th-best Japanese man with a 2:07:48 PB, the fastest time by a Japanese man in over four years. Breakaway men's leaders Haile Gebreselassie and Hailu Mekonnen of Ethiopia faltered after hitting the hills in the last 6 km, Gebrselassie finishing 4th in 2:08:17 and Mekonnen fading to 8th with Gebrselassie saying he had back trouble on the downhills and was unable to keep it together. Domestic pre-race favorite Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) appeared to be straining after only 5 km and fell out of the main pack just past halfway, unable to reclose with a strong finish as his Olympic dream came to an all-but-sure end with his 14th-place 2:12:51 finish.
The men's race started off more or less as planned, with a top group of pacers taking Gebrselassie out at sub-3 minute/km pace and the second group holding steady closer to 3. Five runners went with Gebrselassie, including Kipyego, Kiprotich, Mekonnen, 2:05 man Jafred Chirchir Kipchumba (Kenya) and 2010 Tokyo Marathon winner Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda). In the large second group, Kawauchi was already red in the face by 5 km, while those around him in the pack of 30-40 looked largely relaxed. The front group opened a lead of around 20 seconds over the second group by 10 km, but approaching the 15 km turnaround the pace slowed and the chase pack began to catch up. Rounding the turnaround the pace up front accelerated again, and first Kipchumba and then Fujiwara dropped out of the lead pack and were swallowed up by the second pack.
Mekonnen acted as a pacer for Gebrselassie after 25 km, keeping things moving on 2:05 pace while Kipyego held steady on track for 2:06 and Kiprotich faded to 2:07 territory. Fujiwara caught up to Kiprotich after 30 km and the pair stuck together as they focused on making up ground to the three ahead of them. The Ethiopian leaders appeared to settle into a more relaxed pace, and by 35 km they had slipped to 2:06 pace. At the 35 km water station Gebrselassie's concentration slipped as he dropped his drink bottle, stopped to pick it up, then started running again without retrieving it. Mekonnen seemed to wait for him, but a few hundred meters later on the first of the uphills he fell behind and Gebrselassie pulled away. Fujiwara likewise lost touch with Kiprotich on the first of the uphills, but he quickly regained contact once the road leveled out.
At this stage the running order was Gebrselassie, Mekonnen, Kipyego, Kiprotich, Fujiwara, but in a demonstration of the unpredictability of the marathon the order completely turned over in the final 5 km. Kipyego stepped up his effort as the Ethiopians faded, taking the lead at 38 km. Kiprotich and Fujiwara overtook Mekonnen before Kiprotich dropped Fujiwara to run down Gebrselassie just before 40 km. Fujiwara looked to have stalled, but pushing on the final hill at 41 km he caught Gebrselassie at the 1 km to go sign and rolled on after Kiprotich. Kipyego packed it in for a 2:07:37 finish, missing the course record but happy with the win. Fujiwara recaught Kiprotich just before the final corner, and in a sprint finish he dropped the Ugandan to take 2nd only 11 seconds behind winner Kipyego with the fastest 2nd-half split in the field. Gebrselassie held on to 4th in 2:08:17, his first marathon finish in over two years but one unlikely to get him his hoped-for Olympic place.
Chase pack runners Rothlin, Maeda and Matsumiya all succeeded in running down Mekonnen, Rothlin returning to form with a 2:08:32 for 5th, Maeda throwing his hat into the Olympic contention ring with a 2:08:38 PB, and Matsumiya finally breaking 2:10 with a new best of 2:09:28. Kawauchi was unable to summon up his characteristic second-half strength, and having risked his standing from Fukuoka on something better in Tokyo he lost his chance for the London Olympic team with a disappointing 2:12:51. Masakazu Fujiwara likewise risked his chances on a brave first half up front, finishing 31st in 2:16:46. With one men's Olympic selection race remaining, next weekend's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Arata Fujiwara is as guaranteed a spot in London as is possible in a selection procedure with no published criteria. Maeda's 2:08:38 puts him in good contention, but with a strong field lined up for Lake Biwa his time and 6th-place finish are surely in range of at least two Japanese men in that race. If two break his time he will most likely follow Fujiwara's fate in the last Olympics and be relegated to alternate.
2012 Tokyo Marathon
click here for top 500 results and splits
1. Michael Kipyego Kipkorir (Kenya) - 2:07:37
2. Arata Fujiwara (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:07:48 - PB
3. Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) - 2:07:50
4. Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) - 2:08:17
5. Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland) - 2:08:32
6. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:08:38 - PB
7. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:09:28 - PB
8. Hailu Mekonnen (Ethiopia) - 2:09:59
9. Takeshi Kumamoto (Team Toyota) - 2:10:13 - PB
10. Atsushi Ikawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:11:26
1. Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia) - 2:25:28 - CR
2. Yeshi Esayias (Ethiopia) - 2:26:00 - PB
3. Helena Loshanyang Kirop (Kenya) - 2:26:02
4. Eri Okubo (Second Wind AC) - 2:26:08 - PB
5. Tatiana Arkhipova (Russia) - 2:26:46
6. Lishan Dura (Bahrain) - 2:28:22
7. Eyerusalem Kuma (Ethiopia) - 2:28:36
8. Kateryna Stetsenko (Ukraine) - 2:28:38
9. Adriana da Silva (Brazil) - 2:29:17 - PB
10. Sumiko Suzuki (Team Hokuren) - 2:29:26 - PB
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved
photo (c) 2012 Dr. Helmut Winter
all rights reserved