source articles at bottom of page
Joseph Gitau (24, Team JFE Steel) won the Dec. 2 Fukuoka International Marathon in a superb 2:06:58 with a hard surge after 33 km. "Before the race I hadn't even thought about the possibility of winning," Gitau told the media. "My marathons before this had both turned out badly. I just went into this thinking that it was time to give it another try." Gitau made his marathon debut in Fukuoka in 2009 but dropped out partway. He finished his second marathon in Hokkaido two years ago but ran only 2:21:54. A graduate of Hiroshima's Sera H.S., where he made an impact on the ekiden circuit, Gitau is a product of Japan's corporate team system. In fluent Japanese he said, "I'm accustomed to the environment in Japan and that has made it easier for me to run." Four-time Fukuoka winner Toshihiko Seko commented, "Gitau has bests of only 13:43, 27:58 and 1:01:19. There are many Japanese athletes with better times than these, and they are doing the same training Gitau is. He should be an inspiration to them to reach for the 2:06 level."
Top Japanese finisher Hiroyuki Horibata (26, Team Asahi Kasei) finished 2nd in 2:08:24, just short of the sub-2:08 requirement for a guaranteed place on the 2013 World Championships team but a PB by over a minute. For the first 30 km he stuck behind the pacers. "I wasn't thinking about anything, just trying to stay in the background of the scene," Horibata said. As the best marathoner on Japan's most storied marathon team, Asahi Kasei, Horibata was in particular targeting the independent Arata Fujiwara (31, Miki House) and "Civil Servant Runner" Yuki Kawauchi (25, Saitama Pref.). "Those guys are unique, but I knew how to deal with them. I thought the best way to go was just to hide out for a while and then go for the time." Despite not feeling well, just before 32 km he told himself, "Let's go!" and broke the race open with a powerful surge, living up to a pre-race promise to surprise everyone with an unexpected move. "I did what I said I was going to do," he said. "My confidence is back."
A favorite for the London Olympics team after finishing 7th at last year's Daegu World Championships, the 189 cm-tall Horibata had a disappointing run at April's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon. In April he developed Achilles tendon problems in his right leg, keeping him out of serious training until the fall. He was still able to succeed in Fukuoka, he said, "because I got in a lot of high-quality training for ekiden season." His success served notice that with a traditional base of high-volume training, the corporate ekiden season training menu still plays an important role in sharpening speed. A sub-2:08 time remains a goal. "It's not completely fixed yet," Horibata said, "but [in the spring] I might race overseas to go for a faster time." His goal if he is named to the World Championships team: "Top five."
Horibata's coach, 2:08:55 marathoner and newly-appointed Federation director of men's marathoning Takeshi Soh, was disappointed that Horibata's surge was not enough for the win. "If you get into a good flow you can just cruise along without wasting energy. He looked like he was going to be able to do that today, but then his expression suddenly changed. I thought he was still going to make 2:07, but when he came through the gate onto the track all I could think was, 'Ah, man, so close.' Still, though, the positive thing here is that he got where he did by taking control of the race. His body and his running are both huge. If he improves his efficiency he's capable of running a Japanese national record. We have to stay conscious of time and not waste him."
London Olympian Fujiwara finished 4th despite a very short training cycle and sudden calf problems late in the race, breaking 2:10 for the fifth time in his career. "This race was a challenge to myself to test my character or my courage," Fujiwara told reporters. "It shows that if I trained more seriously there is no reason I couldn't go two or three minutes faster. The calf problem was just something local and it doesn't give me any reason for doubt." Targeting the Tokyo Marathon, where he ran 2:07:48 this year, Fujiwara said, "I want to go for a fast time."
Another of the Japanese favorites in the race, "Civil Servant Runner" Kawauchi lost touch with the lead pack at 28 km. "All of a sudden I started having trouble following the pace, and then it got hard to stay optimistic. I just started to slip away," he said. "To put it simply, I wasn't strong enough." Aiming to clear the 2:07:59 time requirement for the 2013 World Championships team, he missed breaking 2:10 and ended up as the 4th Japanese man, 6th overall in 2:10:29. "I'm thinking about adding workouts with club teams and universities, maybe some corporate teams, to my training," he revealed.
The former world record holder known as "The Emperor" ended his bid for a second Fukuoka crown in rout, dropping out of the race. Apparently running well in the lead pack, after rounding the turnaround point after 31 km Haile Gebrselassie (39, Ethiopia) suddenly stopped. He later explained that he began experiencing pain in his left leg after 25 km. "I couldn't lift my leg any more," he said unhappily post-race. "At first I was feeling good so I thought I would just take it easy and run relaxed, but...." Two years ago Gebrselassie announced his retirement following another DNF at the 2010 ING New York City Marathon before reversing his decision. He is now age 39. Despite the harshness of the reality facing him, Gebrselassie remained optimistic about the future, saying, "I still want to compete."
Another pre-race favorite for the win despite Fukuoka being his debut, 2007 Osaka World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi (26, Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) also dropped out. In his case Mathathi lasted until the 38 km point. "The muscles in both my thighs were completely exhausted," he said with dejection. "Forget about the marathon. I'm giving up on it." Mathathi can take consolation in the fact that winner Gitau also dropped out of his marathon debut in Fukuoka.