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Ageo City Half Marathon Leads Weekend Action - Preview

by Brett Larner

Rainy weather lies ahead for a busy weekend of racing across the country.  Track is a part of the calender from April through December, and this weekend features several large time trial meets including the Shizuoka Long Distance Time Trials Meet and, closer to Tokyo, the Nittai University Time Trials Meet.  Men's 5000 m is the focus at Nittai with 37 separate heats in one day, the fastest heat led by 12 Japan-based Africans including Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC), Ronald Kwemoi (Team Komori Corp.) and Paul Kuira (Team Konica Minolta).

The main action this weekend, however, happens on the roads, and there's no question that the Ageo City Half Marathon is the main event.  Ageo, the race that university coaches use to thin their rosters ahead of deciding their lineups for January's Hakone Ekiden, is one of two Japanese half marathons vying for the title of world's greatest half, locked in a duel with March's National University Half Marathon to produce the deepest fields ever seen.  27 university men broke 1:03 at this year's Nationals, and 19 of them are on the entry list for Ageo along with another 12 who have broken 1:03 elsewhere, 20 more with sub-29 10000 m bests, and at least one sub 1:03 man, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) in the general division.  Ageo will be hard-pressed to top the world record 265 runners sub-1:06 set at Nationals this year, but with the added motivation of an invite to the 2016 New York City Half Marathon available to the top two Japanese collegiate finishers the front end could surpass the Nationals numbers.  JRN will be on-hand to cover the race live.

It's well into ekiden season, and in four central corporate league regions, Chubu, Hokuriku, Chugoku and Kansai, corporate men's teams will be competing to qualify for the January 1 New Year Ekiden national championships.  But overshadowing them are two large marathons.  With 17,213 finishers last year the Kobe Marathon is inside the top 15 largest marathons worldwide, and this year's fifth anniversary running is bound to be even bigger.  Defending men's champion Haron Malel (Kenya) returns to lead the men's field, with last year's 4th-placer Mildred Kiminiy (Uganda) topping the women's list.

More women will line up nearby Ageo at the first edition of the Saitama International Marathon, the descendant of both the Yokohama International Women's Marathon and Tokyo International Women's Marathon.  A mass-participation race with an elite women's field up front, Saitama is the first domestic selection race for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic women's marathon team.  With one place on the team already gone to Beijing World Championships 7th-placer Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and two more selection races to come Japanese women have almost entirely skipped Saitama, not a single one who has broken 2:30 since 2012 on the entry list.  The promising Aki Odagiri (Team Tenmaya), 2:30:24 in a 5-minute PB in Nagoya this spring, leads the home team followed by former national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), Japan's lone public EPO positive Kaori Yoshida (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) and comeback cancer survivor Remi Nakazato (Team Nitori).

Recent 2:25 Africans Atsede Baysa (Ethiopia), Rebecca Kangogo Chesir (Kenya) and Meselech Melkamu (Ethiopia) lead the international entries, an indication of how fast the race will likely go.  The field also includes London Olympics marathon bronze medalist Tatyana Arkhipova (Russia), rejected from this year's New York City Marathon and represented by Andrey Baranov, the same agent who handled high-profile banned Russians Liliya Shobuknova, Mariya Konovalova and Tatyana Aryasova, and another athlete to have previously served a drug suspension, Rasa Drasdauskaite (Lithuania).  It's a troubling start that can't do much to establish Saitama's reputation given current events worldwide.

Look for coverage of these events and more over the next few days on JRN.

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
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