by Brett Larner
Japan’s last top-level marathon of the year takes place this Sunday with the 67th running of the historic Fukuoka International Marathon. In recent weeks Fukuoka has been hit by some high-level withdrawals including 2010 New York City Marathon winner Gebre Gebremariam (Ethiopia), last year’s Fukuoka runner-up Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) and 2008 Tokyo Marathon winner Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland), but with four of last year's top six returning it looks set to be a very close-matched and exciting race up front.
Defending champion Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) returns as the fastest man in the field with the 2:06:58 time he set last year. In his only recent race, the Oct. 27 Hiroshima Corporate Ekiden, Gitau ran 19:21 for 6.60 km to finish only 4th on the stage nearly a minute behind the winner, and with little else to go on he has to be viewed as a question mark coming in to Fukuoka. His strongest competition should be 2007 World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC). Mathathi made an abortive marathon debut in Fukuoka last year, looking fine but abruptly dropping out late in the race when he was unable to cope with the momentum of the surge thrown in by Horibata and carried by Gitau. With another year behind him he should be in it for 1st place. Polish national record holder Henryk Szost is the next-best man on the list with his 2:07:39 at last year’s Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, and with a 2:08:42 for 3rd in Fukuoka last year he should be a solid podium contender. But if Japan’s big two have anything to say about it that won't be enough for the win.
Those big two are the star independents who have double-handedly revitalized Japanese men's marathoning, Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t). Fujiwara has not run a marathon since jumping into last year’s Fukuoka on a month’s training and subsequently getting injured, but following altitude training in St. Moritz, Switzerland over the summer he was a strong 4th at the Great North Run followed two weeks later by a win at the Hakodate Half Marathon. After Hakodate he suffered some overtraining issues, but since the beginning of November his training has been flawless and he is optimistically predicting a time under his PB of 2:07:48. If he does it he will be only the second Japanese man to break 2:08 more than once and may well have the chance to become the first Japanese man to win Fukuoka since 2005 World Championships bronze medalist Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) back in 2004.
Kawauchi has been off more than on since a disappointing run in the Moscow World Championships marathon, but bracketing a so-so 2:12:29 for 11th at the New York City Marathon were a 59:17 clocking for 20 km, equivalent to the second-fastest half marathon time of his career, and a 1:03:06 half marathon, the fourth-best of his career. Kawauchi has said since the summer that his goal in Fukuoka, his tenth marathon so far this year, is to make the Japanese team for next year’s Asian Games and that he will remove himself from consideration for future World Championships and Olympics teams if he fails. He believes a 2:07:30 will be necessary to get there and has spoken confidently this week of reaching that time. To make the team he will also have to beat Fujiwara, something he has only ever done twice in his career and only once in a marathon. Let's hope for a replay of Kawauchi vs. Fujiwara's college roommate Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) at Beppu-Oita last February but one second per km faster.
If there is another Japanese man likely to challenge them it is 5000 m and 30 km national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta). Despite holding the then-world record of 1:28:00 for 30 km, Matsumiya struggled in numerous attempts at the marathon between 2006 and 2011, not breaking 2:10 until Tokyo last year where he ran 2:09:28. At this year’s Tokyo Marathon he improved that to 2:09:14, and if he has really learned to put it together he should on paper at least be able to handle Fujiwara and Kawauchi’s mid-2:07 pace and score one for the corporate league's pride.
Skipping last weekend’s Spanish national championships to get into a faster race, Ayad Lamdassem rounds out the sub-2:10 men having set a best of 2:09:28 in London this year after a failed debut attempt in the cold rain of last year’s Lake Biwa. Other possible front-pace contenders include former Nihon University ace Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Team Monteroza), who beat Kawauchi at October’s Takashimadaira 20 km, and Ireland’s Alistair Cragg who looks to complete his first marathon after a string of DNFs.
The Fujiwara-Kawauchi showdown aside, this particular front-pack lineup may not have the star power to excite the marathon world’s fashionistas, but the second pack has enough intrigue to be the kind of well-balanced, multi-faceted race that the Japanese seem to be just about the only ones to have realized makes for something that will appeal to the average TV viewer. Olympian Reid Coolsaet is back from a broken collarbone to take a shot at the Canadian national record of 2:10:09 set 38 years ago in Fukuoka by the great Jerome Drayton. Half-marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) will run his last marathon before retiring, returning to the site where he ran his best of 2:07:13 against the late Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya/Team Toyota Kyushu) and a then-unknown Deriba Merga (Ethiopia) in 2007. A solid pack of 2:11-2:14 men including Wanjiru's great high school-era rival Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin), teammates Takaaki Koda and Satoru Sasaki of Asahi Kasei and Chiharu Takada and Koji Gokaya of Fujiwara's former corporate team JR Higashi Nihon, 2:13 independents Sho Matsumoto and Etsu Miyata who emerged this year from the corporate system to join the growing numbers of marathoners inspired by Fujiwara and Kawauchi to pursue their own careers, and international quartet Andrew Lemoncello (Great Britain), Mark Kenneally (Ireland), Juan Luis Barrios (Mexico) and Carlos Trujillo (U.S.A.) will be looking to make the jump up to the golden A-list. All told it looks like a great race for anyone who appreciates something more than just the latest -est.
The Fukuoka International Marathon will be broadcast live on TV Asahi starting at noon Japan time on Sunday, Dec. 1. Although the race can be seen live with English commentary in some locations, most overseas fans will have to take their chances with watching the race live on Keyhole TV. Some Japanese-language updates may be available via local broadcaster KBC. JRN will also once again cover Fukuoka live via Twitter @JRNLive.
Fukuoka is not the only noteworthy distance racing in Japan. Also on Sunday in Kyushu is the world's deepest 10 miler, the 38th Kumamoto Kosa 10 Mile Road Race where the best of the corporate leagues not running Fukuoka tune up for the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden national corporate men's championships. Further north in the general environs of Tokyo is this year's last full edition of the celebrated Nittai University Time Trials track meet, where more top high school, university and corporate men and women will be getting ready for championship ekiden season. The biggest event outside Fukuoka, though, is Saturday's Hachioji Long Distance Time Trials meet in Tokyo's western suburbs sponsored by the 2013 New Year Ekiden national champion team Konica Minolta. Hachioji features six heats of 10000 m and one 5000 m heat, with the 10000 m A-heat boasting fifteen of the top Japanese-based Africans led by Olympian Bidan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA RC) and eight Japanese men looking to go under 27:50, most notably all-time Japanese #7 Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota; 27:41.57), former collegiate national record holder Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei; 27:44.30) and, looking to join the list of Japanese collegiates to run 27 minutes this year, 2013 National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University aces Shinobu Kubota and Kenta Murayama. Check back throughout the weekend for coverage of these top-level events alongside Fukuoka.
67th Fukuoka International Marathon
Fukuoka, Dec. 1, 2013
click here for complete field listing
21. Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) - 2:06:58 (Fukuoka 2012)
68. Atsushi Sato (Japan/Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:07:13 (Fukuoka 2007)
3. Henryk Szost (Poland) - 2:07:39 (Biwako 2012)
22. Arata Fujiwara (Japan/Miki House) - 2:07:48 (Tokyo 2012)
23. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:08:14 (Seoul Int'l 2013)
25. Takayuki Matsumiya (Japan/Team Konica Minolta) - 2:09:14 (Tokyo 2013)
4. Ayad Lamdassem (Spain) - 2:09:28 (London 2013)
5. Reid Coolsaet (Canada) - 2:10:55 (Toronto Waterfront 2011)
26. Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:11:02 (Tokyo 2013)
62. Takaaki Koda (Japan/Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:08 (Tokyo 2011)
28. Satoru Sasaki (Japan/Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:28 (Tokyo 2013)
29. Chiharu Takada (Japan/Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:11:53 (Tokyo 2013)
66. Koji Gokaya (Japan/Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:07 (Biwako 2011)
71. Hironori Arai (Japan/Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:12:27 (Biwako 2011)
61. Yuki Nakamura (Japan/Team Kanebo) - 2:12:52 (Tokyo 2012)
64. Etsu Miyata (Japan/unattached) - 2:13:19 (Nagano 2010)
63. Sho Matsumoto (Japan/Nikkei Business) - 2:13:38 (Nobeoka 2013)
59. Andrew Lemoncello (Great Britain) - 2:13:40 (London 2010)
54. Mark Kenneally (Ireland) - 2:13:55 (Amsterdam 2011)
57. Juan Luis Barrios (Mexico) - 2:14:10 (New York 2011)
55. Clint Verran (U.S.A.) - 2:14:17 (Chicago 2002)
51. Carlos Trujillo (U.S.A.) - 2:14:21 (Chicago 2012)
65. Yasuyuki Yamamoto (Japan/Team JFE Steel) - 2:14:21 (Biwako 2012)
53. Chia-Che Chang (Taiwan) - 2:16:06 (Pyongyang 2012)
58. Bobby Curtis (U.S.A.) - 2:16:46 (New York 2011)
52. Ben Moreau (Great Britain) - 2:16:46 (London 2010)
56. Brendan Martin (U.S.A.) - 2:22:32a (Boston 2013)
Debut / Shooting for first marathon completion
72. Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 58:56a (Great North Run 2011)
7. Alistair Cragg (Ireland) - 1:00:49a (New York Half 2011)
73. Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Team Monteroza) - 1:01:06 (Marugame Half 2012)
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved