by Brett Larner
Four major races this weekend mark the end of Japan's winter road season, two domestic and two foreign. On the home front, the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships lead the way. 2008 Kenyan national XC champion Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) is the favorite, followed closely by last year's runner-up Jacob Wanjuki (Team Aichi Seiko) and, making a return to the half following a long injury, 2010 World Half Marathon Championships 9th-place Tomoya Onishi (Team Asahi Kasei). Ten other men have PBs under 62 minutes, making for a thick front pack. Notable debuts will come from track champions Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) and Taku Fujimoto (Team Toyota).
Course record holder Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) is the favorite in the women's race as she tunes up for next month's London Marathon. She faces young competition from Sakiko Matsumi (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Yuka Tokuda (Team Starts), with strong debuts expected from ekiden stars Yurie Doi (Team Starts) and Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), Doi's teammate Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts) and independent Yuka Ando (Mizuno). For the third year there is also a women's 10 km, where former high school star Katsuki Suga (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) will go up against sub-32:30 women Miho Ihara (Team Shikoku Denryoku), Hitomi Nakamura (Team Panasonic) and Tomoka Inadomi (Team Wacoal).
Collegiate women also have their day at the National University Women's Half Marathon Championships, where places are on the line for the Japanese World University Games team. With Japanese women including both Akaba and last week's Nagoya Women's Marathon winner Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) having medalled in every edition of the Games' half marathon it's a safe bet that many of the country's best will be in the race. Look in particular for last year's winner Ayame Takaki (Meijo Univ.), whose solo 1:11:10 in cold rain was one of the better performances of the first half of the year.
2012 Corporate women's champion Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) opted not to defend her title, instead going overseas to run the New York City Half Marathon. Her 1:09:47 best ranks her 6th in the New York field, where her competition includes 2013 Marugame Half Marathon runner-up Kim Smith (New Zealand) and Sendai Ikuei H.S. graduate Caroline Rotich (Kenya). The top two Japanese university men from November's Ageo City Half Marathon, Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) and Kento Otsu (Toyo Univ.) are in the men's race. Murayama's all-time #10 Japanese 1:01:19 ranks him at 7th, and if the weather is favorable he may have a shot at the 1:01:09 Japanese university student national record. Otsu will be looking to improve on his 25th-place finish in New York last year.
Last and definitely not least, the baffling Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), already a virtual lock for the Moscow World Championships marathon team, looks to add to his litany of success this year with his third marathon of 2013 at the Seoul International Marathon. Kawauchi originally said his goal for Seoul was to meet the Japanese Federation's 2:07:59 time standard for the Moscow team, but following a media brouhaha around comments critical of Kawauchi by Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) after his 2:08:00 finish at last month's Tokyo Marathon, Kawauchi reframed his target as "beating Maeda's time." His competition includes 2:05 and 2:06 Kenyans Eliud Kiptanui, Franklin Chepkwony and Benjamin Kiptoo, and Ethiopian Seboka Tola, who beat Kawauchi while setting the 2:08:27 course record at last spring's Dusseldorf Marathon.
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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