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Matsumoto Faces Tough Challenge in Best-Ever Grandma's Marathon Field

by Brett Larner
photos by Kenji and Jamie Ogura

With 22 men on its entry list having run under 2:14 in the last four years, 11 of them sub-2:12 and an unprecented sub-2:10 contingent led by former marathon junior world record holder Bazu Worku (Ethiopia), in its final year under the helm of race director Scott Keenan the 37th running of Grandma's Marathon may, if the weather cooperates, see a serious shot at the historic 2:09:37 set in 1981 by the great Dick Beardsley.  Only one athlete among the top 22 hails from a country other than Kenya or Ethiopia, 27-year-old Japanese independent Sho Matsumoto (Nikkei Business Services).  Appearing at Grandma's with support from JRN after a recommendation from Japan's most famous independent, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), Matsumoto faces a tough challenge in climbing up through the ranks toward the front end of the field.

A graduate of running-oriented Kobayashi H.S. where he ran the National High School Ekiden Championships twice, Matsumoto attended the academically elite University of Tokyo, making news for qualifying for the 2005 Hakone Ekiden as a member of the Kanto Region Select Team and earning a reputation as an intellectual scholar-athlete.  Post-graduation he was recruited by the TEPCO corporate team coached by 1991 World Championships gold medalist Hiromi Taniguchi, but the Fukushima disasters in his third year with the team spelled the end of his corporate league career as the TEPCO team was disbanded.  While his teammates moved to other teams or retired, Matsumoto opted to follow Kawauchi's example and go the independent route.

Taking a full-time job with the Tokyo-based Nikkei Business Services company Matsumoto spent time developing a workable training regimen before making a serious move to the marathon in the fall of 2012.  Going sub-2:20 for the first time in 2:19:26 at the Oct. 28 Oikawa Marathon, he followed up with a 2:18:59 best at the Dec. 2 Fukuoka International Marathon after going through halfway in 1:03:50, 10 seconds better than his half marathon best.  The Feb. 10 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon marked Matsumoto's big breakthrough. Running against a field of developing corporate runners at 2:11 pace, Matsumoto hit them with a hard surge at 30 km that broke the field apart.  Pushing on in the lead, he fell victim to winner Hiroaki Sano's closing speed but held on to improve his best by over 5 minutes to 2:13:38.

Matsumoto, course record holder Dick Beardsley and host family Jamie and Kenji Ogura.

Making his serious overseas debut in Grandma's, Matsumoto hopes to improve again to at least 2:12, a time that most years would put him at the front end of the field. Where it will put him this year, with possible tailwinds and strong competition lined up ahead of him to well below the 2:10 level, is anyone's guess, but Matsumoto has one point of history on his side.  At the start of his independent career in 2010, future 2:07 man and Olympian Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) outkicked Bazu Worku by 20 seconds over the final kilometer to set the Ottawa Marathon course record.  It would be a stretch for Matsumoto to do the same on Saturday, but if he did his position as another independent among Japan's leading men would be set.  The corporate league coaches and bureaucrats will be watching.

37th Grandma's Marathon Elite Field Highlights
Duluth, MN, 6/22/13

Men
Bazu Worku (Ethiopia) - 2:05:25 (Berlin 2010)
Gashaw Asfaw (Ethiopia) - 2:08:03 (Paris 2006)
Wegayehu Tefera (Ethiopia) - 2:08:25 (Seoul 2010)
Abraham Chelanga (Kenya) - 2:08:43 (Paris 2009)
Weldon Kirui (Kenya) - 2:09:06 (Eindhoven 2012)
Dereje Yadete (Ethiopia) - 2:09:51 (Tiberias 2012)
Tumicha Horsa (Ethiopia) - 2:10:53 (Saint Anthony 2012)
Ernest Kebenei (Kenya) - 2:10:55 (Nairobi 2011)
Tesfaye Sendeku (Ethiopia) - 2:11:18 (San Diego 2012)
Sammy Malakwen (Kenya) - 2:11:31 (Beirut 2012)
Meshack Kirwa (Kenya) - 2:11:45 (Nairobi 2009)
Francis Maundu (Kenya) - 2:12:09 (Toronto 2009)
Christopher Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:12:17 (Grandma's 2011)
James Kirwa (Kenya) - 2:12:54 (Des Moines 2011)
David Rutoh (Kenya) - 2:13:00 (Baltimore 2010)
Elijah Muturi (Kenya) - 2:13:17 (Zhenzhou 2012)
Joseph Mutinda (Kenya) - 2:13:19 (Torreon 2012)
Edward Mbuni (Kenya) - 2:12:32 (Nairobi 2010)
Lamech Mokono (Kenya) - 2:13:28 (Grandma's 2012)
Kennedy Kemei (Kenya) - 2:13:36 (Firenze 2006)
Sho Matsumoto (Japan) - 2:13:38 (Nobeoka 2013)
Benjamin Metto (Kenya) - 2:13:45 (Grandma's 2012)

Women
Yihunlish Delelecha (Ethiopia) - 2:30:39 (Grandma's 2011)
Everlyne Lagat (Kenya) - 2:31:32 (Grandma's 2012)
Doreen Kitaka (Kenya) - 2:32:31 (Grandma's 2011)
Sarah Kiptoo (Kenya) - 2:33:42 (Cleveland 2013)
Hirut Guangul (Ethiopia) - 2:34:02 (Twin Cities 2012)
Tinibt Gidey (Ethiopia) - 2:34:43 (Twin Cities 2012)
Divina Jepkosgei (Kenya) - 2:34:53 (Grandma's 2011)
Gulume Tollesa (Ethiopia) - 2:36:05 (Marrakech 2013)
Tezeta Dengersa (Turkey) - 2:37:52 (Baltimore 2011)
Laurie Knowles (U.S.A.) - 2:38:11 (Grandma's 2011)

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

photos (c) 2013 Kenji Ogura
all rights reserved

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Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Upcoming race schedule: Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan
Mar. 25: Kuki Half Marathon, Saitama
Apr. 16: Boston Marathon, U.S.A.
May 5: Toyohirakawa Half Marathon, Hokkaido
June 2: ASICS Stockholm Marathon, Sweden
June 17: Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon, Shimane
July 1: Gold Coast Airport Marathon, Australia
Aug. 2…