by Brett Larner
In its 62nd running the Feb. 3 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon was billed as one thing and one thing only, a showdown between Japan's most reliable marathoner, London Olympics 6th-place Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki), and its most idiosyncratic, the independent Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.). What a gift to Beppu-Oita, an historic race consigned to second-tier status. It was as if Americans Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein lined up to go head-to-head at Grandma's Marathon. With exceptional performances given consideration in picking the Moscow World Championships team their pre-race goals were clear. Nakamoto: "My goal is to win a marathon for the first time. I'm aiming to break my PB [2:08:53]." Kawauchi: "If I run faster than Hiroyuki Horibata did [2:08:24 in Fukuoka last December] then I might not do Lake Biwa in March." And did they deliver on those words.
The rest of the field and race are barely worth mentioning. Pacer Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei) took the field through 25 km in 1:16:00 absent any support from two spectacularly amateurish Kenyan pacers. The pack dwindled, Nakamoto's teammate Shinji Tateishi (Team Yasukawa Denki) suffered a nasty rolling fall at a water station, Kawauchi's rival Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) lost touch at 25 km, and Kawauchi went to work at 28 km after a feint by Nakamoto.
Launching the first of six death-defying surges over the last third of the race, he was immediately out front. And right on him was Nakamoto. Nakamoto went to the front, the pair started splitting sub-3-minute kilometers, and in a blink there was nobody else in sight. At 30.5 km Kawauchi surged, and again Nakamoto retook the lead. Again at 33.4 km. Again at 36.4 km. Again at 36. 9 km. Desperation on the face of Kawauchi, calm collection playing on Nakamoto. Both on track to take the 2:08:30 course record.
Nakamoto has PB'd every year since debuting in 2008, has never finished outside the top ten, and has never come close to anything that could be called a bad marathon. All business when it comes to clearly articulating his goals and then meeting them. His one flaw is his finish, a weakness that made him lose out to Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express) at Lake Biwa last year and almost miss the Olympic team and to Keflezighi at the Olympics but one he tried to work on this time with fewer long runs and more hard tempo work. The consistent point through Kawauchi's countless marathons has been his finish, almost always recording the fastest split in the field from 40 km to the finish.
Taken together this meant Nakamoto had to get away by no later than 37 km to have a chance of opening enough of a gap to stay ahead of Kawauchi's finish, but when that mark came he was still recovering from Kawauchi's fifth surge. Again he took the lead in the best race of his life, looking strong and in control with Kawauchi on the verge of snapping, but like at the Olympics you knew he was doomed as the kilometers went by and he couldn't get away. In a replay of the 2011 Fukuoka Marathon Kawauchi made his sixth and final attack coming into and again out of a water station at 40.5 km, and that was it. A gap appeared that Nakamoto could not cover.
Kawauchi split a superb 6:32 for the final 2.195 km to Nakamoto's 6:52, breaking the course record by 15 seconds with a new record of 2:08:15 in his fifth race, fourth win, third course record, second marathon and first PB of 2013. Cracking Toshihiko Seko's best and tying that of two-time Olympic 4th-placer Takeyuki Nakayama with a 1-second negative split. And he stayed on his feet. Nakamoto missed joining him under the record by just 6 seconds but took nearly 20 seconds off his own best with a time of 2:08:35. Both men broke the former fastest mark in Beppu-Oita by a Japanese man, Takayuki Nishida's 2:08:45, and became only the 6th and 7th men to break 2:09 in Beppu-Oita's 62 years. The rest of the field was 4 minutes back, Kenji Higashino (Team Asahi Kasei) taking 3rd in a PB of 2:12:13 and Australian Michael Shelley the only non-Japanese to make the top ten as he finished 6th in 2:13:12.
In post-race comments Kawauchi was effusive in showing his respect for Nakamoto, who for his part was shattered to have met one of his pre-race goals without the other. Asked about his future plans, Kawauchi said, "I haven't completely decided yet, but based on today I might not run Lake Biwa and instead go for 2:07 at the Seoul Marathon." Kawauchi missed the Federation's hubristic sub-2:08 requirement for guaranteed World Championships team selection, but having achieved his own goal of beating Horibata's 2:08:24 he is now the front-runner to make the team. Between his 6th at the Olympics and his best today Nakamoto also seems like a lock barring truly historic races in Tokyo and Lake Biwa.
Kawauchi's breakthrough 2:08:37 in Tokyo in 2011 lit fires under the collective asses of the Japanese industry and played a major role in getting the system to the point where it is now. What effect is his 2:08:15 today, a time only fellow independent Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) has broken since before the Beijing Olympics, going to have in 2013? Kawauchi made the choice to come back to the site of his marathon debut and Nakamoto to a course that had given him a PB early in his career, and both rewarded their fans and the organizers of a small but historic event with something that people will talk about for years.
2013 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon
click here for complete results
1. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:15 - CR, PB
2. Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:08:35 - PB
3. Kenji Higashino (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:13 - PB
4. Yoshiki Otsuka (Team Aichi Seiko) - 2:12:51 - PB
5. Masahiro Ishida (Team Sagawa Express) - 2:13:07 - PB
6. Michael Shelley (Australia) - 2:13:12
7. Yu Chiba (Team Honda) - 2:13:19 - PB
8. Naoya Hashimoto (Team Chudenko) - 2:14:36
9. Masanori Sakai (Team Kyudenko) - 2:14:44 - debut
10. Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:16:05
11. Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea) - 2:16:13 - debut
12. Shigeki Tsuji (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:16:21
13. Ben Moreau (GBR) - 2:16:54
14. Takashi Toyoda (Team Honda) - 2:17:01
15. Abdelkrim Boubker (Morocco) - 2:17:14
18. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) - 2:17:47
65. Brad Milosevic (Australia) - 2:32:57
DNF - Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods AC)
1. Chiyuki Mochizuki (Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:40:11
2. Megumi Yamashita (Team Toto) - 2:40:49
3. Chie Yamada (Fukuoka T&F Assoc.) - 2:54:46
4. Miyuki Kaneko (AC Kita) - 2:56:44
5. Hiromi Yoshida - 2:57:28
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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