by Brett Larner
For years the worldwide fall elite marathon season has gotten underway with Sapporo's Hokkaido Marathon on the last Sunday of August. Two years organizers did away with their elite fields, leaving top amateurs Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) and Yuri Yoshizumi (Osaka Nagai AC) to win in two of the slowest winning times in event history. Last year the elite fields returned with a small international contingent that proved mostly superfluous. With the release of this year's elite fields today it's clear that organizers have trimmed the fat to focus on a good domestic field that on paper any other country outside Africa would have a tough time matching.
Leading the men's field is the 4th-fastest Japanese man of the year, Masanori Sakai (Team Kyudenko), who ran 2:09:10 in Tokyo in February. Named to the federation's new marathon National Team program on the strength of that performance, with Hokkaido's always-hot conditions Sakai will be the first guinea pig in the program to be subjected to the program's objective of developing marathoners who can excel in heat for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sakai is the class of the field by a considerable margin, but his competition includes 2010 Asian Games silver medalist Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN), multiple-2:11 man Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and the up-and-coming Ryoichi Matsuo (Team Asahi Kasei) and Yuki Oshikawa (Team Toyota Kyushu). Unsuccessful in the marathon so far but hoping for more are Hakone Ekiden Sixth Stage record holder Kenta Chiba (Team Fujitsu) and one of Japan's all-time best high school runners Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin). Of special note among the first-timers is Hiroyuki Yamamoto, a graduate of Hakone Ekiden course record holder Toyo University now running for two-time corporate national champion team Konica Minolta.
The top end of the women's field is packed with former corporate-league athletes pursuing different directions. Yuri Kano (Kyoto T&F Assoc.) and Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) were longtime teammates who balanced each other well. On the dark side, Kano has had a complicated career trajectory that saw her leave the Shiseido corporate team with Shimahara, head coach Manabu Kawagoe and others to form the Second Wind club team, then leaving Second Wind to return to Shiseido, then finally quitting Shiseido this spring to run as an independent. Representing the light, Hokkaido course record holder took time off a few years ago to have a child, and since returning has been running in the mid-2:40s. Kumi Ogura (Kochi T&F Assoc.) is another former pro now running as an independent. Former pro skiier and mountain runner Azusa Nojiri quit the Daiichi Seimei corporate team to run with private sponsor Hiratsuka Lease, mostly without success so far with a 2014 best of only 2:33:39.
All of which leaves Yuka Yano (Canon AC Kyushu), winner of this year's inaugural Kitakyushu Marathon in 2:31:02, as the favorite. Manami Kamitanida (Team Hitachi), 2:31:34 in Tokyo this year, should bring a solid challenge along with debuting Shoko Mori (Team Otsuka Seiyaku), a training partner of Daegu World Championships marathoner Mai Ito.
2014 Hokkaido Marathon Elite Field Highlights
Sapporo, Hokkaido, 8/31/14
click here for complete elite field listing
Masanori Sakai (Team Kyudenko) - 2:09:10 (2014 Tokyo Marathon)
Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN) - 2:10:51 (2010 Biwako Mainichi Marathon)
Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:11:15 (2013 Tokyo Marathon)
Ryoichi Matsuo (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:11 (2014 Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon)
Yuki Oshikawa (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:13:24 (2014 Biwako Mainichi Marathon)
Sho Matsumoto (Nikkei Business) - 2:13:38 (2013 Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon)
Shigeki Tsuji (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:13:41 (2014 Biwako Mainichi Marathon)
Kazuyoshi Tokumoto (Team Monteroza) - 2:14:48 (2012 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon)
Kiyokatsu Hasegawa (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:15 (2010 Tokyo Marathon)
Yasuaki Kojima (Team Subaru) - 2:15:38 (2014 Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon)
Takuya Suzuki (Team Aisan Kogyo) - 2:15:40 (2014 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon)
Masamichi Shinozaki (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:16:15 (2014 Biwako Mainichi Marathon)
Kenta Chiba (Team Fujitsu) - 2:18:07 (2014 Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon)
Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:27:15 (2010 Tokyo Marathon)
Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta) - debut - 1:32:20 (2013 Ome 30 km)
Shun Suzuki (Nanyo City Hall) - debut - 1:34:26 (2013 Kumanichi 30 km)
Yuma Morii (Team SGH Group Sagawa) - debut - 1:03:57 (2014 Marugame Half)
Yuri Kano (Kyoto T&F Assoc.) - 2:24:27 (2008 Tokyo Int'l Women's Marathon)
Azusa Nojiri (Hiratsuka Lease) - 2:24:57 (2012 Osaka Int'l Women's Marathon)
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:25:10 (2009 Hokkaido Marathon)
Yuka Yano (Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:31:02 (2014 Kitakyushu Marathon)
Manami Kamitanida (Team Hitachi) - 2:31:34 (2014 Tokyo Marathon)
Kumi Ogura (Kochi T&F Assoc.) - 2:34:01 (2013 Nagoya Women's Marathon)
Sayuri Baba (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 2:37:38 (2012 Nagano Marathon)
Shoko Mori (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - debut - 1:11:41 (2010 Sanyo Women's Half)
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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