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Kiprop Crushes Tokyo Marathon Record, Lilesa Over Chumba for Men's Win

by Brett Larner

2015 Beijing World Championships marathon silver medalist Helah Kiprop (Kenya) delivered the outstanding performance of the 10th Tokyo Marathon, doing all she could to try to deliver a performance that would score her the win in the Abbott World Marathon Majors.  Leading a pack including two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat (Kenya), fellow AWMM title contenders Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) and Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) and three other Ethiopians through halfway in 1:10:41, Kiprop kept it even and ground down the others, never really accelerating or losing pace on the hills in the last 6 km but dropping the competition one by one.

All alone by 40 km it looked like she might take down the fastest marathon ever run by a woman on Japanese soil, Mizuki Noguchi's 2:21:18 in Osaka in 2003, but despite coming up just short Kiprop succeeded in taking nearly a minute off the course record as she won in 2:21:27.  Runner-up Amane Gobena (Ethiopia), a frequent face in Japan, unexpectedly dropped more than a minute and a half off her best to take 2nd in 2:21:51, likewise clearing the course record.  Kiplagat took 3rd in 2:22:36, a return to form in her first time going under 2:23 in almost two years.

Kiprop's time was the fastest in the last year's cycle of AWMM races by nearly two minutes and, combined with her 2:24:03 for 2nd in Tokyo last year gave her the fastest two-race average among the three contenders for the AWMM title, herself Mary Keitany (Kenya) and Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia).  Despite this, the AWMM race directors voted to give the $500,000 bonus to Keitany, winner of November's 2015 New York City Marathon in 2:24:25 and runner-up in London in 2:23:40.  Tokyo still has its work cut out for it to be taken as a true equal by the more well-established powers that be and not just a brand presence in a major Asian market, and the absence of any Japanese women in its elite field doesn't help.  General division entrant Yukiko Okuno (Team Shiseido) was the top Japanese woman, 10th overall in a PB of 2:31:17.

There was no absence of top-level Japanese men in Tokyo, however, with the race counting in the opaque Rio Olympics Japanese men's team selection process.  And like Kiprop in the women's race, course record holder Dickson Chumba (Kenya) had to win and win fast to have a chance of snatching the AWMM title and bonus from series leader Eliud Kipchoge.  Tokyo Marathon race director Tad Hayano set up three pacers scheduled to go around 2:58/km, low-2:05 pace, and only that pace.  Good for most of the top-level African competition in the field but leaving the aspiring Japanese Olympians, who needed to chase the JAAF's 2:06:30 Rio standard, pretty much high and dry.  Need to target a time only one Japanese man has ever run in order to make the Olympics?  You'd better go out over a minute faster than that or you're on your own, suckers.  The results were predictable, if more dramatic than expected, and apart from the runners themselves the responsibility for it lies squarely on Hayano.

After a relatively conservative downhill first 5 km in 14:59 with both the international and domestic contingents united, the #1-bibbed Emmanuel Mutai (Kenya) got the pacers to up their game as they hit the flat near 7 km.  A gap immediately severed the pack into two, the top seven-ranked Africans in pursuit of the pace trio and everyone else behind.  Sensing that they weren't coming back, the ambitious Kenta Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei), the twin brother of 10000 m NR holder Kota Murayama and making his debut just five days after turning 23, left the chase pack to enter the orbit of the greats just before 10 km.  The lead octet split 29:37 through 10 km, 2:04:58 pace, while the mostly-Japanese chase pack, led by last year's 2:07:39 breakthrough wonder Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), hit an entirely reasonable 29:57, 2:06:22 pace.

The problem was, there were too many of them together, exerting drag by mutual consensus without a single pacer to keep them on track.  Yes, pacers in an Olympic trial race may be questionable, but so is demanding that they run a national record to make the team.  While Mutai, Chumba, Murayama and the others up front continued to sail on to higher ground the second pack dropped farther and farther behind.  Over a minute by 15 km.  Nearly two minutes by 20 km.  The leaders 1:02:52 through halfway, exactly on track for the 2:05:42 course record, the chasers 1:04:42, a lowly 2:09:24 pace.

The first big change came after halfway on the trip up to the Asakusa turnaround, with Murayama losing touch before 25 km.  After the turnaround at 28 km the pace up front slowed by roughly 5 seconds a kilometer, and with the pacers' departure Chumba took control to try to get it back on track.  Only Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia), tucked at the back of the pack up to that point, followed, with first Eliud Kiptanui (Kenya) and then Mutai losing touch to leave Bernard Kipyego (Kenya) and London Olymipcs gold and silver medalists Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) and Abel Kirui (Kenya) in pursuit.  Chumba's move proved real, he and Feyisa pulling away and never again challenged.  Almost.

Further back, the dismally slow Japanese men's race took a turn for the chaotic and interesting as Arata Fujiwara (Miki House), the fastest Japanese man at the last two Olympic selection-year Tokyos, surged before 30 km to cull the ranks.  Imai followed, along with debuting Hakone Ekiden stars Yuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.), Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) and Yuta Shimoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), Javier Guerra (Spain) and a few others.  Hattori, the 30 km national university record holder, took the next big action, dropping a 14:54 split from 30 km to 35 km to get rid of his competition and try to close the gap to Murayama, who began to come back into sight rapidly.  Near 35 km he kicked past Murayama, a replay of the 2015 Hakone Ekiden Second Stage, and went up the hills looking strong and confident.  Guerra and Shimoda were next to overtake Murayama, who felt the sting to his pride of the 19-year-old Shimoda going past and tried briefly to rally.

Up front, Chumba and Lilesa worked the hills, Chumba taking the lead on the climbs and Lilesa going by on the descents.  Near 39 km Lilesa clipped Chumba's foot and immediately apologized, seeming to ask if Chumba was OK.  Just over a kilometer later he said goodbye, flexing his biceps at the top of the last hill and cruising on to the win in 2:06:56.  Chumba had absolutely nothing left to respond when Lilesa's move came, so little that with just a few meters to go he could only watch as Kipyego went by to steal 2nd in 2:07:33 by a stride.  Kiprotich and Kirui took 4th and 5th a short way back, another solid Tokyo showing from Kiprotich and a big step back in the right direction from Kirui.

Back in the Japanese race, Guerra and Shimoda began to gain unexpectedly on Hattori, who went suddenly from smiling and pumping his fist to ghost-faced, but even more unexpectedly the unknown Yuki Takamiya (Team Yakult), a 2:15:38 runner, zoomed into focus and tore past both.  Guerra went after him and together they ran down Hattori, but Takamiya was too much for Guerra to take that late in the race.  Like Lilesa Takamiya began celebrating at the peak of the last hill before running in unchallenged to take 8th in 2:10:57, a PB by almost five minutes in an Olympic selection race.

Guerra was next across the line in 2:11:01.  In the last kilometer Shimoda, already Japan's fastest-ever 18-year-old half marathoner with a 1:02:22 last year, looking fresh and unfazed passed the locked-up Hattori, smiling and waving as he came in to cross the finish line in 10th in 2:11:34, a new under-20 Japanese record by nearly four minutes.  His AGU teammate Isshiki, the 2015 World University Games half marathon silver medalist and National University Half Marathon champion, bore down in the home straight to get Hattori on the line for 11th in 2:11:45.  With two Hakone Ekiden titles in a row and now two of the top three Japanese runners in an Olympic selection race World Marathon Major there's not much doubt AGU head coach Susumu Hara is the best coach currently working in Japan.  Toyo's Hattori clocked 2:11:46, his first-ever loss to his former Sendai Ikuei H.S. teammate Isshiki, with Murayama doing the death march in five minutes later and learning what happens when you go out faster than you're ready for as he staggered home in 2:16:58 for 30th.

For the home team it was a very hard race to interpret.  On the one hand, an unknown had an exciting breakthrough and a large number of university stars had good runs in ambitious debuts.  On the other hand, all the experienced pre-race hopefuls, every single one, Imai, Fujiwara, 2:08:09 man Kohei Matsumura (Team Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki) and last year's 2:09 breakthroughs Hiroaki Sano (Team Honda) and Koji Gokaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon), faltered despite good conditions.  Takamiya's 2:10:57 was a great breakthrough, but as the fastest Japanese man in an Olympic selection race it had to have been one of the weakest times in many a long year.  Even though it made for great racing late in the game the Japanese men bear responsibility for how slow it got, nobody stepping up to keep it moving.  And they were spanked by a teenager and other college kids in return.  But 2:06:30 is no joke, not even winner Lilesa able to clear it on the Tokyo course, and Hayano simply offered Japan's best no realistic options that would help them achieve it. 

The wheelchair division also turned in great races, with Tokyo serving as both men's and women's selection events for the Rio Paralympics.  Japan's Wakako Tsuchida (Team Yachiyo Kogyo) went head-to-head with Tatyana McFadden (U.S.A.) through 40 km in the women's race before breaking free on the final hill to win by 10 seconds in 1:41:04.  Tsuchida's time easily cleared the Japanese Rio standard of 1:46:00, meaning that in contrast to her marathon compatriots she is guaranteed a place in Rio.

The men's race saw a large pack that whittled down from eight to four after 25 km, Japanese favorite Kota Hokinoue (Yahoo) pushing the pace in pursuit of the 1:28:30 time standard for Rio autoselection.  Right behind him, greats Kurt Fearnley (Australia), Ernst Van Dyk (South Africa) and Masazumi Soejima (Japan).  On the final righthand corner at 42 km Fearnley attacked, getting past Hokinoue and away for the win in 1:26:00.  Van Dyk drew abreast and in the final meters got a hand-width margin for 2nd in 1:26:01, Hokinoue outlasting Soejima for 3rd in 1:26:01 as well.  Clearing the time standard as well as the top-Japanese-man-in-the-overall-top-three criteria for Rio selection, Hokinoue likewise guaranteed himself a place this summer.  At the pre-race press conference Fearnley said that he had been considering retiring post-Rio, but that with the wheelchair races slated to earn equal billing in the Abbott World Marathon Majors starting with April's Boston Marathon, the chance to score the jackpot bonus just might be enough to keep him on the circuit another year.

10th Tokyo Marathon Top Results
Tokyo, 2/28/16
click here for complete results

Women
1. Helah Kiprop (Kenya) - 2:21:27 - CR, PB
2. Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) - 2:21:51 - PB
3. Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:22:36
4. Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:23:01
5. Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:23:16
6. Shure Demise (Ethiopia) - 2:25:04
7. Ashete Bekele Dido (Ethiopia) - 2:25:50
8. Maja Neuenschwander (Switzerland) - 2:27:36
9. Isabellah Andersson (Sweden) - 2:30:02
10. Yukiko Okuno (Japan/Shiseido) - 2:31:17 - PB
11. Madoka Nakano (Japan/Noritz) - 2:33:39 - PB
12. Miya Nishio (Japan/Hokuren) - 2:34:18 - PB
13. Ayano Kondo (Japan/Noritz) - 2:35:13 - PB
14. Hiroko Yoshitomi (Japan/First Dream AC) - 2:39:30
15. Yuri Kano (Japan/WCF RC) - 2:39:37
16. Risa Suzuki (Japan/Art Sports) - 2:39:57 - PB
17. Ruth Charlotte Croft (New Zealand) - 2:40:59 - PB
18. Kana Unno (Japan/Noritz) - 2:42:06
19. Mitsuko Ino (Japan/Kyuhoji RC) - 2:42:23 - PB
20. Shinobu Ayabe (Japan/Dream AC) - 2:43:37 - PB
21. Sakie Ishibashi (Japan/Kumagaya T&F Assoc.) - 2:44:00
22. Jane Moloney (Australia) - 2:44:23
23. Mitsuko Hirose (Japan/Tokyo Wings) - 2:45:04
24. Maiko Tani (Japan/Morino AC) - 2:45:18 - PB
25. Kasumi Sato (Japan/SRC904) - 2:47:08 - PB

Men
1. Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) - 2:06:56
2. Bernard Kiprop Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:07:33
3. Dickson Chumba (Kenya) - 2:07:34
4. Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) - 2:07:46
5. Abel Kirui (Kenya) - 2:08:06
6. Eliud Kiptanui (Kenya) - 2:08:55
7. Emmanuel Mutai (Kenya) - 2:10:23
8. Yuki Takamiya (Japan/Yakult) - 2:10:57 - PB
9. Javier Guerra (Spain) - 2:11:01
10. Yuta Shimoda (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:11:34 - debut
11. Tadashi Isshiki (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:11:45 - debut
12. Yuma Hattori (Japan/Toyo Univ.) - 2:11:46 - debut
13. Masato Imai (Japan/Toyota Kyushu) - 2:12:18
14. Akiyuki Iwanaga (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:12:24 - PB
15. Hiroki Yamagishi (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:12:27 - PB
16. Tatsunori Hamasaki (Japan/Komori Corp.) - 2:12:45
17. Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Sunbelx) - 2:12:55
18. Hiroaki Sano (Japan/Honda) - 2:13:10
19. Kohei Matsumura (Japan/Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki) - 2:13:46
20. Yasuyuki Nakamura (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:46 - PB
21. Kazuaki Shimizu (Japan/Yakult) - 2:14:16
22. Chiharu Takada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:29
23. Ryo Hashimoto (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:14:38 - debut
24. Satoshi Kikuchi (Japan/Josai Univ.) - 2:14:54 - debut
25. Ryohei Nishiyama (Japan/Kanagawa Univ.) - 2:15:42 - debut
26. Takehiro Deki (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:15:49
27. Toshinori Watanabe (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:16:01 - debut
-----
30. Kenta Murayama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:16:58 - debut
38. Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza) - 2:19:11
40. Masashi Hayashi (Japan/Yakult) - 2:19:29
44. Arata Fujiwara (Japan/Miki House) - 2:20:23
45. Satoru Kasuya (Japan/Toyota Boshoku) - 2:20:38
47. Koji Gokaya (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:21:05
57. Teklemariam Medhin (Eritrea) - 2:22:36 - debut
80. Jun Hiratsuka (Japan/Team RxL) - 2:26:58
93. Martin Fiz (Spain) - 2:28:29
98. Michael Wardian (U.S.A.) - 2:29:16
117. Koki Kawauchi (Japan/Monteroza) - 2:31:32
153. Yoshiki Kawauchi (Japan/Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:34:27
173. Yusuke Inoue (Japan/Marathon Guru) - 2:35:21 - PB
-----
DNF - Samuel Ndungu (Kenya)
DNF - Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Japan/Konica Minolta)

Women's Wheelchair
1. Wakako Tsuchida (Japan) - 1:41:04
2. Tatyana McFadden (U.S.A.) - 1:41:14
3. Kazumi Nakayama (Japan) - 1:56:58
4. Amanda McGrory (U.S.A.) - 2:10:55
DNF - Mizuki Takasaki (Japan)

Men's Wheelchair
1. Kurt Fearnley (Australia) - 1:26:00
2. Ernst Van Dyk (South Africa) - 1:26:01
3. Kota Hokinoue (Japan) - 1:26:01
4. Masazumi Soejima (Japan) - 1:26:02
5. Tomoki Suzuki (Japan) - 1:26:11

© 2016 Brett Larner
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