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Chala and Biru a Threat to Gold Coast Airport Marathon Course Record, Kawauchi Hopes to Get Some Too

by Brett Larner



The southern hemisphere's only IAAF gold label race, Australia's Gold Coast Airport Marathon returns this weekend with solid fields in both the men's and races.  Nine men and four women come to the race with gold label credentials, times under 2:10 for men and 2:28 for women, within the last three years, and with good weather forecast for Sunday morning more than a few could replicate those times on Australian soil.


Japanese women have dominated Gold Coast in recent years, winning the last four years straight and sweeping the top five last year.  They'll have a tougher time of it this year.  Ethiopians Gulume Chala, last year's Frankfurt Marathon winner in 2:23:12, and Meseret Biru, last year's Paris Marathon winner in 2:23:26, lead the way, with Kenyan Leah Kiprono, winner of this year's Zhengzhou Marathon in 2:27:39, taking the third spot in the pre-race rankings.  Misato Horie (Noritz) is the only Japanese woman with a gold label to her name, just, with a 2:27:57 at the 2014 Nagoya Women's Marathon.  Her 2:28:20 for 2nd in Osaka in January puts her within about two minutes of the top three's best recent times, but if they push it toward the 2:27:17 course record Horie will need to bring her best to compete.  "It's a tough field, but at the same time there's nobody here who I definitely can't beat," Horie told JRN.  "If all goes well I want to PB."

2014 Gold Coast 2nd-placer Rika Takenaka (Shimamura), no relation to 2015 winner Risa Takenaka, is back, but with the race having picked up steam since she was last here it seems likely that she would be hoping for top three at best.  Likewise for former Japanese national record holder Yoko Shibui (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), still powering on 15 years after her then-debut world record in Osaka in 2001 but with just a 2:31:06 last November at the Saitama International Marathon to show for herself now.  "My training has been OK," Shibui said.  "My minimum goal is sub-2:30."


With a 2:05:38 best in Paris 2013 Peter Some (Kenya) is the top man in the field, 2:07 in Tokyo in both 2014 and 2015 but just 2:10:01 in Seoul earlier this year.  Beraki Zerea (Eritrea) is the next-fastest on paper with a 2:08:27 in Hengshui two years ago, but with only a 2:16:43 in Vienna last year followed up with a DNF at the Beijing World Championships he would need to bring back his A-game.  Tougher competition comes from defending champion and masters world record holder Kenneth Mungara (Kenya), with 3 wins and 5 top 3 placings in his last 6 marathons including another masters record of 2:08:38 in Milan earlier this year.  "A lot depends on the pacers," Mungara said.  "If they do a good job, I can beat my time from last year."

Mungara, Kawauchi and NZ's Paul Martelletti talk to Steve Moneghetti at the pre-race press conference. 

Lesser-known Milton Rotich (Kenya) and Birhanu Achamie (Ethiopia) also look dangerous, Rotich with wins in two of his last three marathons including a 2:08:55 in Casablanca 2013 and 2:09:27 man Achamie getting into the top 2 in 4 of his 5 career marathons to date.  A potential dark horse is John Cheruiyot (Kenya), just 2 marathons to his name but trending in the right direction with a 2:10:59 debut for 2nd in Rabat last year followed by a 2:08:56 in Frankfurt.  Japan-based Mongolian national record holder Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (NTN) leads the non-African challenge, a 2:08:50 for 3rd in Fukuoka 2014 to his name but a wildly uneven performance history making his aggressive racing style the only predictable thing about him.

Following the withdrawal earlier this week of Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) with a minor injury, 2013 Gold Coast Airport Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) is the top Japanese contender.  Kawauchi hasn't run sub-2:10 since before a December, 2014 ankle sprain that mutated into a long-lasting series of injuries, but a 2:12:04 win in sleet and freezing rain in Zurich this year and a 50 km national record two weeks ago suggest he's back to near peak form.  Kawauchi has yet to join the exclusive 5-member club of Japanese men to have won overseas marathons sub-2:10, and with big goals ahead of him this fall he hopes that Sunday will be his day.  Like Mungara, Kawauchi was positive about the number of pacers in the race, including sub-2:10 man Koji Gokaya (JR Higashi Nihon).  "I'm definitely ready for sub-2:10," he told JRN.  "If that's enough for the win then I'll go for it."

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon also features high-level 10 km and half marathon divisions on Saturday and Sunday.  The marathon itself starts at 7:20 a.m. local time Sunday, with the entire race streamed live on the race website.  For the third year in a row JRN's Brett Larner will be sitting in on the broadcast as a guest commentator.  Look for more coverage throughout race weekend.

Gold Coast Airport Marathon
Gold Coast, Australia, 7/3/16
times listed are best in last three years except where noted

Men
Peter Some (Kenya) - 2:07:05 (Tokyo 2014)
Beraki Zerea (Eritrea) - 2:08:27 (Hengshui 2014)
Kenneth Mungara (Kenya) - 2:08:38 (Milano 2016)
Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) - 2:08:50 (Fukuoka 2014)
Milton Rotich (Kenya) - 2:08:55 (Casablanca 2013)
John Cheruiyot (Kenya) - 2:08:56 (Frankfurt 2015)
Yuki Kawauchi (Japan) - 2:09:05 (Fukuoka 2013)
Birhanu Achamie (Ethiopia) - 2:09:27 (Rome 2016)
Willy Kotile (Kenya) - 2:09:58 (Milano 2015)
Chiharu Takada (Japan) - 2:10:03 (Fukuoka 2014)
Abragaw Misganaw (Ethiopia) - 2:10:22 (Dubai 2014)
Tatsunori Hamasaki (Japan) - 2:12:12 (Tokyo 2015)
Abdelhadi El Hachimi (Belgium) - 2:12:45 (Berlin 2014)
Saeki Makino (Japan) - 2:15:22 (Seoul 2015)

Women
Gulume Chala (Ethiopia) - 2:23:12 (Frankfurt 2015)
Meseret Biru (Ethiopia) - 2:23:26 (Paris 2015)
Leah Kiprono (Kenya) - 2:27:39 (Zhengzhou 2016)
Misato Horie (Japan) - 2:27:57 (Nagoya Women's 2014)
Rika Takenaka (Japan) - 2:29:27 (Osaka Women's 2015)
Agnes Mutune (Kenya) - 2:30:13 (Frankfurt 2015)
Yoko Shibui (Japan) - 2:31:06 (Saitama 2015)
Hitomi Nakamura (Japan) - 2:33:23 (Osaka Women's 2015)
Wei Wei Sun (China) - 2:36:29 (Seoul 2016)

© 2016 Brett Larner
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Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Upcoming race schedule: Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama
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Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan
Mar. 25: Kuki Half Marathon, Saitama
Apr. 16: Boston Marathon, U.S.A.
May 5: Toyohirakawa Half Marathon, Hokkaido
June 2: ASICS Stockholm Marathon, Sweden
June 17: Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon, Shimane
July 1: Gold Coast Airport Marathon, Australia
Aug. 2…