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Lake Biwa, Tachikawa and Tamana Ahead With Worlds Places at Stake

by Brett Larner

The end of the Japanese road season approaches with three big races on Sunday.  First is the last of the domestic selection races for Japan's World Championships marathon team, the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.  With 2:05:13 man Vincent Kipruto (Kenya), 30 km world record holder Peter Kirui (Kenya) and 2012 Houston Marathon winner Tariku Jufar (Ethiopia) in the field Wilson Kipsang's 2:06:13 course record may be in reach, or at least the 2:06:50 winning time last weekend in Tokyo.  For the Japanese men the Federation has set a 2:07:59 hoop for a guaranteed place on the Moscow team, and the men have been jumping.  The main candidates for the team so far are:
  1. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:08:00 - PB (4th, Tokyo)
  2. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:15 - PB (1st, Beppu-Oita)
  3. Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:08:24 - PB (2nd, Fukuoka)
  4. Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:08:35 - PB (2nd, Beppu-Oita)
Given the recent upward trajectory in Japanese men's marathoning there's not much doubt that one Japanese man will get close to that kind of time, but, with London Olympics 6th-placer Nakamoto seemingly in a vulnerable position the question is how many.  Last year five Japanese men in Lake Biwa broke 2:10, two of them sub-2:09. This year there at least four good candidates.  London Olympian Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express), 2:08:44 in Lake Biwa last year, looks fit after a good run at the Marugame Half.  Tomoyuki Morita (Team Kanebo) debuted in 2:09:12 in Lake Biwa, right up there on the all-time Japanese debut list and with the potential for more. In just his second marathon at age 23 Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru) ran most of last October's Chicago Marathon with Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein (U.S.A.), fading to 2:10:40 in the final kilometers but showing promise of a coming breakthrough.  Maybe the most interesting is 2012 National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University ace Shinobu Kubota, holder of a 1:01:38 half marathon and going for the 2:08:12 collegiate and debut marathon records.

The holder of those records, 2010 Tokyo Marathon winner Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda), is also on the entry list along with plenty of 2:09 men, 61-minute half marathoners and aging stars, making Lake Biwa the strongest of the 2012-13 domestic Japanese fields and its outcome unpredictable.  Click here for a detailed field listing, and click here for details on watching NHK's live commercial-free broadcast.  JRN will cover the race live via Twitter starting at noon Japan time.

While Kubota is racing Lake Biwa many of the other top Hakone Ekiden runners will be lining up in Tachikawa, Tokyo for the National University Men's Half Marathon Championships.  Although Tachikawa is the qualification race for the World University Games half marathon team, most of the best collegiates have traditionally skipped it in favor of going for the WUG track events later in the season.  Not so this year.  The entry list includes defending national university champion Toshikatsu Ebina (Teikyo Univ.), 2013 Hakone Ekiden stage winners Masaya Taguchi (Toyo Univ.), Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and Shota Hattori (Nittai Univ.), 2012 National University Ekiden Fifth Stage winner Yuki Arimura (Meiji Univ.), 2012 Izumo Ekiden Third Stage winner Kazuma Kubota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), 2013 World Cross-Country Championships team members Takumi Honda (Nittai Univ.) and Keigo Yano (Nittai Univ.), and other top-level men including Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.), Duncan Muthee (Takushoku Univ.) and Shuhei Yamamoto (Waseda Univ.) all going for places on the Kazan team.  With a field of this quality it may well take a sub-62 to get the win.

Last year that was what Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei) did at the Tamana Half Marathon, soloing a 1:01:25 course record to briefly break into the Japanese all-time top ten.  This year World Championships marathon contender Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) makes it the next stop on his tour of the nation's races, facing Fukatsu's teammate Yoshikazu Kawazoe (Team Asahi Kasei) as his main competition.  The 10 km in Tamana is the only noteworthy women's race of the weekend, with defending champion Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) going for a record fifth win against 2011 Tokyo Marathon winner Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal), 15:32 collegiate Sairi Maeda (Bukkyo Univ.) and many more.  Look for start list updates on all three races as Sunday draws closer.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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