by Brett Larner
Another busy weekend is on the way, with the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon and Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon leading at least five elite road races nationwide. Despite a padding of aging veterans and the withdrawal yesterday of two A-list athletes, Beppu-Oita still sports what may be the best field in its 63-year history, from a domestic standpoint at least as good as what Tokyo has put together this year. The fastest Japanese marathoner of 2013 with a 2:08:00 in Tokyo and a vocal critic of Beppu-Oita course record holder Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) is back in Beppu for the first time since 2011 looking to eclipse the 2:08:15 record Kawauchi set last year. His best competition comes form Mongolian national record holder Ser-Od Bat-Ochir, a high-volume marathoner who beat Kawauchi to win the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon in 2:09:00 seven weeks ago. If things go well and Bat-Ochir is fully recovered from Hofu the race should shake down to a head-to-head between these two.
Kenyan Jason Mbote has run 2:07:37 but has been closer to the just-sub-2:10 level for the last two years, positioning him perfectly for the other two top Japanese contenders, 2:09:55 man Masashi Hayashi (Team Yakult) and former Hakone Ekiden star Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu). More than a half-dozen others with times under 2:12 are also in the field with another half-dozen making their debuts, so there will be plenty of company in the second group and potential for someone to step up and challenge Maeda and Bat-Ochir in the front. Worth keeping an eye on among the first-timers are Ryuji Watanabe (Team Toyota Kyushu), winner of this year's New Year Ekiden anchor stage, and 2004 World Junior Championships 10000 m bronze medalist and Athens Olympian Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei). Click here for a more detailed field listing.
The Marugame Half has seen explosive growth the last few years, including 24 men sub-1:02 in its 2012 running, as it has grown into the tune-up race of choice for people running the Tokyo Marathon three weeks later. 2013 Fukuoka International Marathon winner Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) is the favorite for Marugame's 68th running, with competition from Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea), Jacob Wanjuki (Kenya/Team Aichi Seiko), defending men's champion Collis Birmingham (Australia) and 2:04:48 marathoner Yemane Tsegaye (Ethiopia).
This year Marugame counts toward selection of the Japanese men's team for March's World Half Marathon championships, so there is no shortage of top-level Japanese men either. All-time Japanese #3 Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) leads the domestic contingent with a best of 1:00:53 as he prepares for a marathon debut in Tokyo at age 22, followed closely by #1 collegiate Kenta Murayama (Komazawa University), who cracked the all-time Japanese top ten last year in Marugame when he ran 1:01:19 at age 19. Nine other Japanese men with bests under 1:02 are also in the field, including London Olympian Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) who is also preparing for Tokyo. Most notable among the first-timers is Kenyan Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Nihon Univ.), 2nd at October's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km in 58:00, while Murayama's identical twin brother Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) will be running his first serious half marathon off a 59:17 for 4th behind Kitonyi at the Yosenkai.
With Marugame not counting toward women's World Half selection and the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, which does, just two weeks later, the women's race is very thin this year. London Olympics marathon 7th-placer Jessica Augusto (Portugal) looks virtually certain to be set for the win, her best of 1:09:10 far ahead of anyone else in the race. Of the others, only Berlin World Championships track runner Yukari Sahaku (Team Univ. Ent.) has broken 1:10, but with no quality performances on her record since Berlin Sahaku doesn't seem likely to be a factor. Four other women have bests under 1:11, Eri Hayakawa (Team Toto) and Misato Horie (Team Noritz) having gotten there last year in Marugame and Yolanda Caballero (Colombia) a month later with a national record 1:10:30 in New York. Worth a mention is 2012 National University Half Marathon champion Ayame Takaki (Meijo Univ.), whose solo 1:11:10 win to take the 2012 national title suggested she could step up to bigger things if she can find the same magic. Click here for a deeper listing of the Marugame field.
Two other half marathons on Sunday feature decent numbers of collegiate athletes. The 36th Kanagawa Half Marathon is the bigger of the two, with top-level Hakone Ekiden schools including Komazawa University, Waseda University and Aoyama Gakuin University typically fielding men each year. Northeast of Tokyo, the Moriya Half Marathon, a frequent post-ekiden sortie for 2013 Hakone champion Nittai University, celebrates its 30th running. To the northwest, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) is back in action at the 81st running of the local Saitama Ekiden. Check back throughout the weekend for coverage of all five races.
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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