by Brett Larner
Mid-afternoon heat and a strong headwind in the first half of the race kept times relatively slowly at the 55th running of the Sapporo International Half Marathon July 1, but both the women's and men's divisions featured good races. 2011 World Championships marathon team member Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) took the women's race in 1:10:52, with 2007 World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) holding off a late charge from course record holder Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) for the win in 1:01:35.
An early pack of ten in the women's race saw a steady rotation of the lead between twin sisters Hiroko Miyauchi and Yoko Miyauchi (both Team Kyocera), 2012 Sendai International Half Marathon winner Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) and little-known Sachi Tanaka (Sports Yamagata 21). Favorite Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) was an unexpected early casualty given the moderate mid-70 pace, falling off the pack after 5 km and spending the rest of the race gutting her way back into the top five.
Rounding the turnaround at halfway Ito made a push into the lead, with only the Miyauchi twins able to follow. Hiroko fell away followed by Yoko, and from there to the finish it was a steady widening of the gaps between the top three. Ito was strong through the top of the uphill at 20 km but then abruptly faltered, staggering on the short downhill onto the track for the finish but managing to hold off the faster-closing Yoko Miyauchi. For her effort Ito was rewarded with a likely spot on the Japanese team for October's World Half Marathon Championships.
The front end of the men's race was more of a blowout, with Mathathi leading solo almost wire-to-wire. Settling into cruising mode, he seemed unaware that course record holder Mogusu, who reportedly returned to Japan from Kenya the day before the race, was closing after running conservatively through 15 km. Mathathi was nonchalant coming down the home straight for the win, but Mogusu, with the fastest split in the field after 15 km, was elated with his best performance in years and raised his arms as he crossed the finish line sixteen seconds back from Mathathi.
Further back, Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) ran a characteristically brave race, going out fast far ahead of the main Japanese chase pack and occupying the top Japanese spot until he was joined by London Olympics marathoner Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) at 16 km. Fujiwara, in his fourth race of the week, also ran characteristically, telegraphing his London intentions as he sat in the pack throughout the first half before bolting away in pursuit of the leaders.
Okamoto, to his credit, gave Fujiwara a go of it, surging back away into the top Japanese spot and 6th place overall past 2009 Sapporo winner Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) at 17 km. Fujiwara managed to reclose the gap and sat on Okamoto until 20 km, when Okamoto again surged and opened a significant gap. Fujiwara appeared broken, but on the last lap of the track he summoned up the closing speed that brought him his 2010 Ottawa Marathon win and 2010 and 2012 Tokyo Marathon second-place finishes, passing Okamoto on the final curve and opening a two-second gap for 6th in 1:02:48. Fujiwara was already eligible for the World Half team following his top Japanese finish in Sendai, but Okamoto may also be tapped on the strength of an outstanding run here.
Fujiwara's London teammate Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express) had a run in keeping with the fitness level he showed in last month's Olympic Trials 10000 m, finishing 18th in 1:03:48. Fujiwara was confident in his post-race on-air interview, but Yamamoto was visibly uncomfortable and unhappy despite dishing up the usual platitudes. To the disgrace of race broadcaster Nihon TV, winner Mathathi was not shown even once after crossing the finish line, must less given an on-air victor's interview. Even Japanese fans raised an eyebrow on Twitter and elsewhere at NTV's blowing off of the World Championships medalist.
2012 Sapporo International Half Marathon
Sapporo, Hokkaido, 7/1/12
click here for complete results
1. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:10:52
2. Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 1:11:04
3. Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 1:11:26
4. Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) - 1:11:39
5. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 1:12:07
6. Sachi Tanaka (Sports Yamagata 21) - 1:12:42
7. Rui Aoyama (Team Univ. Ent.) - 1:13:04
8. Aki Odagiri (Meijo Univ.) - 1:13:27
9. Ayame Takagi (Meijo Univ.) - 1:13:33
10. Sakiko Matsumi (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 1:13:51
1. Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:01:35
2. Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:01:51
3. Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) - 1:02:00
4. James Mwangi (Kenya/Team NTN) - 1:02:09
5. Alex Mwangi (Kenya/Team YKK) - 1:02:18
6. Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) - 1:02:48
7. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:02:50
8. Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:03:16
9. Yoshihiro Yamamoto (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:03:22
10. Dishon Karukuwa Maina (Kenya/Team Aisan Kogyo) - 1:03:24
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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