by Brett Larner
The Osaka Marathon is something of an oddity. The progeny of the post-Tokyo Marathon mass participation running boom, in its fifth running last year Osaka had nearly 30,000 finishers to rank as the 7th-largest marathon worldwide in 2015. But along with the United States' Marine Corps Marathon it was one of only two races in the top ten without an IAAF label, an indication that the JAAF has not positioned it as part of Japan's crowded elite race calendar. And yet, Osaka typically has an invited elite field good enough for at least IAAF bronze medal status if it wanted it, good enough that it has yet to see a Japanese winner male or female. There's something of an indication there of the tension between tradition and modernity in today's Japanese distance running world, neither purely elite nor purely mass participation.
Whatever the organizers' intentions, Sunday's race features good fields on both the men's and women's sides with six of last year's top seven men and four of last year's top five women returning. Defending men's champ Daniel Kosgei (Kenya) is back, facing 2012 winner Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/NTN) and a tough challenge from Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza). Ngandu, with a 2:09:18 best from Tokyo last year, is fresh off a third win at the Takashimadaira 20 km and looks like the favorite. Last year's runner-up Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) is the top-ranked Japanese man, but Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Team Nissin Shokuhin) is a promising first-timer who could challenge Ito for the top Japanese position.
Last year's women's runner-up Hisae Yoshimatsu (Shunan City Hall) is also back with a 2:35:46 course record win at the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon under her belt in the interim. Her strongest competition is Nurit Yimam (Ethiopia), but there's potential for Remi Sano (Team Nitori), a former 2:23 runner making a comeback after facing cancer, to step back up to the elite level. 2015 Zurich Marathon winner Yoshiko Sakamoto (YWC) will run her first domestic marathon of 2016 in Osaka after good runs at June's Jilin Marathon and September's Muenster Marathon with support from JRN.
6th Osaka Marathon Elite Field Highlights
click here for complete elite field listing
times listed are best within last three years except where noted
Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/NTN) - 2:08:50 (Fukuoka Int'l 2014)
Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza) - 2:09:18 (Tokyo 2015)
Daniel Kosgei (Kenya) - 2:10:13 (Castellon 2014)
Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:12:04 (Nagano 2015)
Hiroki Yamagishi (GMO Athletes) - 2:12:27 (Tokyo 2016)
Yasuyuki Nakamura (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:46 (Tokyo 2016)
Sho Matsumoto (Nikkei Business Service) - 2:14:54 (Osaka 2014)
Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Nissin Shokuhin) - debut - 1:03:15 (Marugame Half 2015)
Remi Sano (Nitori) - 2:33:24 (London 2013)
Nurit Yimam (Ethiopia) - 2:33:44 (Rabat 2015)
Hisae Yoshimatsu (Shunan City Hall) - 2:35:46 (Hofu 2015)
Yumiko Kinoshita (SWAC) - 2:35:49 (Tokyo 2015)
Yoshiko Sakamoto (YWC) - 2:36:29 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Chika Tawara (RxL) - 2:39:44 (Osaka 2015)
Mayumi Uchiyama (Nitori) - 2:39:54 (Tokyo 2015)
©2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved