by Brett Larner
A big weekend of racing is ahead in Japan with three major races and a handful of other events on the calendar for Sunday. First and foremost is the 67th Kagawa Marugama International Half Marathon, where London Olympic marathon medalists Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia) and Abel Kirui (Kenya) bring the most prestige. Women's gold medalist Gelana is challenged by #1-ranked Kim Smith (New Zealand) and 2010 Marugame winner Nicole Chapple (Australia) from south of the equator, with 2012 Sanyo Ladies Half Marathon winner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) making up the domestic challenge. All three challengers hold faster PBs than Gelana, setting up for an exciting race. Other top-level entrants include Marisa Barros (Portugal) and Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera).
Men's silver medalist Abel Kirui (Kenya) is the fastest man in Marugame, where last year's men's field set new world records for depth. His strongest competition on paper is Japanese national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), but with Sato past his prime his main rival should be last year's 3rd-placer Jacob Wanjuki (Kenya/Team Aichi Seiko). In the next layer are one of the men with the best chance of breaking Sato's 1:00:25 national record, Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), Irish 5000 m and 10000 m national record holder Alistair Cragg, Japan-based Kenyans Daniel Gitau (Team Fujitsu), Benjamin Gandu (Nihon Univ.) and Johana Maina (Team Fujitsu), former Australian 10000 m national record holder Collis Birmingham and London Olympic marathoners Arata Fujiwara (Team Miki House) and Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express). Click here for a detailed listing of both the men's and women's fields in Marugame.
With Fujiwara and Yamamoto in Marugame Japan's other male Olympic marathoner Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) made the surprising choice to follow up his 6th-place finish in London with a shot at his first-ever marathon win at the 62nd Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, universally abbreviated Betsudai in Japan. With a 2:08:53 PB last year and a flawless record in the marathon he comes to Betsudai as the favorite, but despite saying he is ready for a new PB poor performances at the New Year Ekiden and the National Men's Ekiden in January leave a question mark hanging over him. His main competition comes from Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.), already running his second marathon of the year but saying that he is targeting the 2:08:24 time set by Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) at December's Fukuoka International Marathon. Betsudai is a selection race for the Moscow World Championships, so if either Nakamoto or Kawauchi break 2:08 they will earn a place on the team and a new course record, currently 2:08:30. Only five men have ever broken 2:09 in Betsudai, so realistically a sub-2:10 win should probably be sufficient to get World Championships team consideration.
A potential wildcard in the Nakamoto-Kawauchi duel is last year's runner-up Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia). Despite having only a 2:11:05 best he is an aggressive racer who beat Kawauchi for the win at the 2011 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon. Although Nakamoto has an undefeated record against both Kawauchi and Bat-Ochir look for the U.K.-based Mongolian to go with his Japanese rivals in a faster pace up front. Interesting first-time marathoners include 61-minute half marathoners Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea), Daisuke Matsufuji (Team Kanebo) and Mamoru Hirano (Team Yasukawa Denki), with other top-ranked marathon entrants including Adam Draczynski (Poland), Abdelkrim Boubker (Morocco), Michael Shelley (Australia) and Kazuya Ishida (Team Nishitetsu).
Further back, 59+ world record holder Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods AC) will be going for his fifth single-age world record, Clive Davies' longstanding age 64 record of 2:42:44. Hosaka tells JRN that his training has gone perfectly since setting the age 63 record at December's Hofu Yomiuri Marathon and that he is confident of having a shot at Davies' mark. If successful he hopes to run October's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon for a chance to meet fellow advanced-age world record holder Ed Whitlock. Click here for a detailed listing of the Betsudai elite field. The race will be broadcast live on TBS beginning at 11:50 a.m. Japan time and should be viewable online overseas via Keyhole TV. JRN will also cover Betsudai live via Twitter.
Although championship ekiden season is over there's always room for one more, and in this case the 67th Meigi Ekiden fills the bill. Last year's top five teams all return, led by the course-record setting Team Toyota. Toyota is again the probable favorite, but with ace Chihiro Miyawaki shaky at last month's National Men's Ekiden Toyota may fall victim to 2012 runner up Team Toyota Boshoku. Returning 3rd-place Suzuki Hamamatsu AC looks stronger this year with a lineup featuring 2007 World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi (Kenya) and 27:48 man Yusei Nakao and could be in range of the win. Look also for the ekiden debut of 2011 Welsh 10000 m national champion Hywel Care (Shonai RT).
Beyond these three large events, the 35th Kanagawa Half Marathon and the 29th Moriya Half Marathon are also scheduled for Sunday, both featuring considerable numbers of Hakone Ekiden collegiate men. Look for JRN's coverage of all five races over the next few days.
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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