by Brett Larner
#2-ranked Bazu Worku (Ethiopia) came through with the win at the 69th running of the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, holding off Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) and defending champion Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) to cross the line in 2:09:10 with Sasaki running down Kipruto in the final 200 m to go sub-2:10 for the first time in 2:09:47.
Conditions were very reasonable, with 12 degree temperatures and light wind, but despite this the casualty rate was high and came early. 2012 Fukuoka International Marathon winner Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) was off the back of the pack before the lead group of thirteen hit halfway in 1:03:24. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), in search of a 2:07 and a place in the history books as Japan's first man to run sub-2:10 seven times, was the next big name to falter. By 25 km it was down to seven, and when the pacers departed at 30 km only Worku, Kipruto and Essa Ismail Rashed (Qatar) were left up front with Sasaki trailing by four seconds.
That could have been it, but between 30 and 35 km things got strange. Rashed disappeared, and both Worku and Kipruto slowed. Sasaki took advantage of the lull to catch back up and push into the lead, but although Worku and Kipruto responded the pace continued to slow to beyond 3:10/km. Sasaki again fell behind, 13 seconds down at 40 km when Worku attacked. Once Worku made his move he was never under threat of being caught, but although Kipruto initially went after him Sasaki pushed on to gradually close the gap before blowing by with 200 m to go. All three broke 2:10, with Sasaki the seventh Japanese man this year to break 2:10 and Kipruto nine seconds behind him in 2:09:54.
Well back in the field and showing signs of strain at 25 km, Kawauchi did what he does best and pushed through the pain to retake people one by one, advancing all the way to 4th before finishing in 2:10:38, 24 seconds off what he ran solo at the amateur-level Kumamoto-jo Marathon two weeks ago. His time fell far short of his goals of 2:07 and/or a seventh career sub-2:10, and more importantly muddied the waters of the Asian Games team selection. Kohei Matsumura (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki), 2:08:09 in Tokyo last week, is a lock for the team. Kawauchi is already in contention thanks to his 3rd-place 2:09:05 finish in Fukuoka in December but was vulnerable pending the outcome of Lake Biwa. Sasaki's time was 42 seconds slower than Kawauchi's Fukuoka mark, but Sasaki was consistently near the front of the pack and finished less than 40 seconds off the winner in 2nd. Kawauchi was 3rd in Fukuoka, almost two minutes behind the winner. And although Federation officials said Kawauchi's performance in Lake Biwa would not affect his standing from Fukuoka, you have to feel that Sasaki beating him easily was a stroke against him.
Despite missing almost all of his goals, a 2:07, a seventh sub-2:10, solidifying his Asian Games position by beating all domestic comers, Kawauchi did achieve one historic accomplishment. Until today, the great Takeyuki Nakayama held the fastest average of his ten career best marathons, 2:09:29. Kawauchi needed to run 2:10:45 to beat that, and with his 2:10:38 clocking he moves into the all-time #1 Japanese position with a ten-marathon average of 2:09:28. Small consolation for missing all his main goals, but if nothing else his relatively lackluster performance today will serve as extra motivation when he faces Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) and Martin Lel (Kenya) at May's Hamburg Marathon.
Asian Games team selection is due to be announced following next weekend's Nagoya Women's Marathon.
69th Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
Otsu, Shiga, 3/2/14
click here for complete results and splits
1. Bazu Worku (Ethiopia) - 2:09:10
2. Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:47 - PB
3. Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) - 2:09:54
4. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:10:38
5. Ryosuke Fukuyama (Team Honda) - 2:11:18
6. Rui Yonezawa (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:11:59 - PB
7. Noriaki Takahashi (DeNA RC) - 2:12:04 - PB
8. Muryo Takase (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:12:31 - PB
9. James Mwangi (Kenya) - 2:13:05
10. Agato Yashin Hassan (Ethiopia/Team Chuo Hatsujo) - 2:13:07 - debut
14. Raul Pacheco (Peru) - 2:13:18 - PB
22. Essa Ismail Rashed (Qatar) - 2:15:27
25. Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - 2:15:46
31. Yutaro Yokouchi (Jobu Univ.) - 2:16:42 - debut
49. Solonei Da Silva (Brazil) - 2:20:55
51. Harry Summers (Australia) - 2:21:23 - debut
81. Tomohiro Tanigawa (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:24:47
DNF - Wirimai Juwako (Zimbabwe)
DNF - Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel)
DNF - Hafid Chani (Morocco)
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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