Friday, January 30, 2015

Beppu-Oita, Marugame and Kanagawa Lead Weekend Action

by Brett Larner

It's a busy and snowy weekend across Japan with at least three major races leading the way.

On the southernmost main island of Kyushu, defending champion Abraham Kiplimo (Uganda) returns to the 64th running of the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon as the probable favorite after the withdrawal of top domestic contender Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) with injury earlier this week.  In Nakamoto's absence Kiplimo's main competition is Fekadu Lema (Ethiopia), but with a solid pack of 2:09-2:12 Japanese men there could be a surprise.  Relevant debuts include 1:01:31 half marathoner Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota) and sub-63 Moroccan Abdelmajid El Hissouf.

In the women's race, 2014 100 km World Championships silver medalist Chiyuki Mochizuki (Canon AC Kyushu), a three-time Beppu-Oita winner, returns to face last year's winner Haruka Yamaguchi (Kita AC).  Click here for a complete elite field listing, and follow @JRNLive for live coverage during the race starting noonish on Sunday Japan time.

Further north on the island of Shikoku, the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon, always host to one of the deepest fields in the world, has another solid lineup for its 69th edition.  Beijing Olympics 10000 m bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan (U.S.A.) leads a women's field that includes sub-70 women Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Ehitu Kiros (Ethiopia), defending champion Eri Makikawa (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and upper-tier debuts from Eloise Wellings (Australia), Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu) and Kaho Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei).  Also in the field is Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania), welcomed back to the Yokohama International Women's Marathon in 2012 just weeks after the end of her drug suspension.  Coincidentally, both Yokohama and Marugame share the same elite coordinator.

The men's field is a great one, with last year's winner Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) leading four sub-60 men including 2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon silver medalist Samuel Tsegaye (Eritrea) and the formidable Bernard Koech (Kenya).  The field is packed with Japan-based African talent and eight sub-62 Japanese men including top-ranked Masato Kikuchi (Team Konica Minolta), London Olympian Arata Fujiwara (Miki House), sub-62 collegiates Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) and Shogo Nakamura (Komazawa Univ.), and one of the biggest current stars in Japanese distance running, 2015 Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage record-setter Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.).  34 Japanese men on the entry list have 62-minute PBs.  Talented first-timers include Zane Robertson (New Zealand), Akinobu Murasawa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Ken Yokote (Meiji Univ.).  Click here for detailed elite field highlights.

Many of Inoue, Nakamura and Kamino's teammates will line up closer to Tokyo for the 37th running of the Kanagawa Half Marathon instead of Marugame.  A fast if spectacularly ugly course through the industrial zone south of Yokohama, Kanagawa has tended in recent years to be a proving ground for future top-level university athletes.  Aoyama Gakuin athletes have won three of the last four years culminating in a 1:03:01 course record last year by AGU's Tadashi Isshiki, a major player along with Kamino in the school's CR win at Hakone earlier this month.  If recent trends continue, look for Isshiki's Kanagawa record to fall if the weather cooperates.

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
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