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Ethiopians Negesse and Dibaba Double, Imai 2:07:39 at Tokyo Marathon

by Brett Larner
photos by rikujolove and Dr. Helmut Winter, video by naoki620

Endeshaw Negesse and Birhane Dibaba scored the first-ever Ethiopian double at the Tokyo Marathon, both close to the course records as they won in 2:06:00 and 2:23:15.  Former Hakone Ekiden uphill star Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) made it a show for the home crowd with a 2:07:39 PB for 7th, making him the all-time #6 Japanese man and fastest-ever on the Tokyo course.

With decent weather conditions the massive lead pack went out slower than the 1:02:35 first half planned to get them in range of Ethiopian Tsegay Kebede's 2:05:18 Japanese all-comers' record, Kebede among those up front as they went through half in 1:03:08.  Early casualties included last year's top Japanese man and 2014 Asian Games silver medalist Kohei Matsumura (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki), 2012 Tokyo winner Michael Kipyego (Kenya), debuting great Tariku Bekele (Ethiopia), 2012 Fukuoka International Marathon winner Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) and London Olympian Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) whose 2:07:48 in 2012 was the fastest time on the Tokyo course by a Japanese man prior to today.

A 2:54 split from 21 to 22 km broke the pack up, and by the time the pacers dropped off at 30 km the Koichi Morishita-coached Imai, 2:10:29 man Hiroaki Sano (Team Honda) and 27:38 track runner Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) were the only Japanese runners left in a lead group of eight Africans including Kebede, Negesse, London Olympics and Moscow World Championships gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) and course record holder Dickson Chumba (Kenya).  Sato and Japan-based Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza) were the first to drop, Sano following shortly to leave Imai struggling to hang on as the pace increased.

Up front, Negesse and Chumba pushed the pace, pulling away from Kiprotich, and the others.  Dropped, coming back, then dropped again, Imai used his uphill skills to catch up to Kebede, Geneti and Some on the bridges after 36 km.  After trading the led, Negesse got a gap that he translated into a 33-second lead over the final kilometers, just missing 2:05 territory as he crossed the finish line in 2:06:00.  Chumba looked set for 2nd but was caught just before the line by an ecstatic Kiprotich, who broke 2:07 for the first time with a new Ugandan national record of 2:06:33. 

Imai got rid of Kebede but faltered in the final stages and lost touch with Dechase, Some and Geneti.  Nevertheless, his 2:07:39 was a major step up, a PB by almost 2 minutes, 9 seconds better than Fujiwara's 2012 time and the fastest by a Japanese man since half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato's 2007 2:07:13.  As the first superstar of the Hakone Ekiden's modern era, Imai's performance was a validation of the KGRR's move to make the ~900 m uphill Fifth Stage Hakone's longest in hopes that it would produce future marathon greats.  With subsequent Fifth Stage stars like Ryuji Kashiwabara, Shota Hattori, Keita Shitara, Kenta Murayama and Daichi Kamino yet to make their marathon debuts Imai's success means the next few years could be bright ones.

Kebede was 8th in 2:07:58, setting new world records as his 15th career sub-2:09, 16th sub-2:10 and 19th sub-2:11.  Further back, Sano and Koji Gokaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon) broke 2:10 for the first time, Sano in 2:09:12 and Gokaya in 2:09:21.  Once again top collegiate honors went to Jobu University senior Shun Sato, a regular in Tokyo the last few years and scoring a 2:11:39 best in his last race before graduating.

The women's lead pack went out firmly ensconced inside a massive pack of Japanese men.  With not a single top-level Japanese woman in the field the group included last year's runner-up Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia), London Olympics gold medalist Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia), debuting 2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon bronze medalist Selly Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) and others.  Dibaba ground the others down close to course record pace, but finding herself alone late in the race she couldn't sustain it and slipped to a 2:23:15, missing the course record and Yoko Shibui's age 21 world record of 2:23:11 but still easily getting the win.

Little-known Helah Kiprop (Kenya) dropped Gelana for 2nd in 2:24:03, a PB by more than 3 minutes, with Gelana looking heavily strained as she took 3rd in 2:24:26.  Chepyego outkicked the formerly Japan-based Flomena Cheyech Daniel (Kenya) for 4th in a decent debut time of 2:26:43.  Top Japanese honors went to Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko), 7th in 2:30:25.  Two other Japanese women made the top 10, Yukari Abe (Team Panasonic) debuting in 2:34:43 and club runner Yumiko Kinoshita (Second Wind AC) running a 4 minute PB of 2:35:49.

Tokyo Marathon
Tokyo, 2/22/15
click here for top 500 men's results
click here for top 500 women's results

1. Endeshaw Negesse (Ethiopia) - 2:06:00
2. Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) - 2:06:33 - NR
3. Dickson Chumba (Kenya) - 2:06:34
4. Shumi Dechase (Bahrain) - 2:07:20
5. Peter Some (Kenya) - 2:07:22
6. Markos Geneti (Ethiopia) - 2:07:25
7. Masato Imai (Japan/Toyota Kyushu) - 2:07:39 - PB
8. Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:07:58
9. Hiroaki Sano (Japan/Honda) - 2:09:12 - PB
10. Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza) - 2:09:18 - PB
11. Koji Gokaya (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:09:21 - PB
12. Yared Asmerom (Eritrea) - 2:09:41
13. Takehiro Deki (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:11:14
14. Shun Sato (Japan/Jobu Univ.) - 2:11:39 - PB
15. Tomoyuki Morita (Japan/Kanebo) - 2:11:41
16. Tatsunori Hamasaki (Japan/Komori Corp.) - 2:12:12 - PB
17. Ryo Yamamoto (Japan/SGH Group) - 2:12:46
18. Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:13:16
19. Keiji Akutsu (Japan/Subaru) - 2:13:26 - PB
20. Yuki Sato (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:14:15 - PB
21. Makoto Harada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:52
22. Atsushi Hasegawa (Japan/Subaru) - 2:15:18
23. Kenichi Shiraishi (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:15:31
24. Hideaki Tamura (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:58
25. Kohei Matsumura (Japan/Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:16:08
28. Shun Inoura (Japan/Komazawa Univ.) - 2:17:54 - debut
37. Arata Fujiwara (Japan/Miki House) - 2:19:40
55. Jun Hiratsuka (age 46) (Japan/Team RxL) - 2:23:13
DNF - Adil Annani (Morocco)
DNF - Tariku Bekele (Ethiopia)
DNF - Joseph Gitau (Kenya/JFE Steel)
DNF - Michael Kipyego (Kenya)
DNF - Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Arata Project)

1. Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:23:15
2. Helah Kiprop (Kenya) - 2:24:03 - PB
3. Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia) - 2:24:26
4. Selly Chepyego (Kenya/Kyudenko) - 2:26:43 - debut
5. Flomena Cheyech Daniel (Kenya) - 2:26:54
6. Yeshi Esayias (Ethiopia) - 2:30:15
7. Madoka Ogi (Japan/Juhachi Ginko) - 2:30:25
8. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:34:21
9. Yukari Abe (Japan/Panasonic) - 2:34:43 - debut
10. Yumiko Kinoshita (Japan/SWAC) - 2:35:49 - PB
11. Lauren Kleppin (U.S.A.) - 2:37:13
12. Ayano Kondo (Japan/Noritz) - 2:38:06 - PB
13. Kaori Oyama (Japan/Noritz) - 2:38:43
14. Mayumi Uchiyama (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 2:39:54 - PB
15. Mitsuko Hirose (Japan/Tokyo Wings AC) - 2:40:35

text (c) 2015 Brett Larner, all rights reserved
photos (c) 2015 M. Kawaguchi, all rights reserved
Dibaba and Negesse photos (c) 2015 Dr. Helmut Winter, all rights reserved


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