Two-time Madrid Marathon champ Ezekiel Kiptoo Chebii (Kenya) scored his first Japanese win, outkicking 2013 winner and Daegu World Championships silver medalist Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) on the last lap of the track to win the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon in 2:09:06.
In most ways it was a pretty garden-variety race, pacers taking it through 30 km right around 3:00 / km with most of the bigger overseas and a massive but steadily dwindling pack of Japanese men in tow. After the next-generation breakthrough in Tokyo last week hopes were high with a large number of current and past Hakone Ekiden stars in the field for their first or second marathons the same would happen here. It was almost a foregone conclusion that somebody would be running under 2:09 in pursuit of a place on the London World Championships team, the consensus seeming to be that it would take better than Yuki Kawauchi's 2:09:11 from Fukuoka to be sure of making it.
The first real action didn't happen until between halfway, split in 1:03:19, and 25 km. With 18 people in the front pack at halfway not including the pacers, by 25 km it was down to Chebii and Kipruto with Beijing World Championships bronze medalist Munyo Solomon Mutai (Uganda), debuting former Hakone star Akinobu Murasawa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and second-timer Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) a short way back. Approaching their departure at 30 km the pacers threw down a 14:53 5 km split that dropped everyone but Kipruto. It looked over, Kipruto rolling strong 2 seconds off CR pace, Chebii struggling, Murasawa smooth and powerful and overtaking Mutai for 3rd. But, you know, it was a marathon.
Up front, Kipruto abruptly slowed as soon as the pacers were gone, Chebii catching back up and the pair running side by side until the very end. Miyawaki disappeared. Murasawa suddenly stalled, his face turning red as he looked down at his feet in alarm. Heavily hyped in the media to take the top Japanese spot after a 2:11:45 debut in Tokyo last year, Tadashi Isshiki of Hakone Ekiden champ Aoyama Gakuin University collapsed at 30 km and dropped out. 2015 Tokyo winner Endeshaw Negesse (Ethiopia) and 2015 Beppu-Oita winner Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea) also went out, if not down.
びわ湖毎日マラソン— ひとみ (@km__girl) March 5, 2017
日本人3位 石川末廣(HONDA) pic.twitter.com/fNIJMoN4F3
As all the young dudes faded, three veterans showed them all that experience counts. Running in a small chase pack, Rio Olympians Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) and Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda) and 2014 Asian Games silver medalist Kohei Matsumura (Team MHPS) all began to eat up the ground to Murasawa. Sasaki, the top Japanese finisher in Rio, pulled away from the other two and flew past Murasawa into 4th, Mutai not far ahead and drawing closer.
Onto the track still side by side, Chebii waited until the start of the back straight to put Kipruto away. Kicking for the win, he crossed the line in 2:09:06. Kipruto was next in 2:09:15, joining an exclusive club with his tenth career sub-2:10. Mutai held on to 3rd, going sub-2:10 for the first time, just, in 2:09:59. Sasaki ran out of the ground he needed to catch him, 4th in 2:10:10 with not a trace of happiness on his face. Matsumura and Ishikawa came down to a sprint finish in the home straight, Matsumura getting 5th by a step in 2:11:04.
Chebii expressed great happiness at his win but at 2:09:06 it was the fourth year in a row that Lake Biwa has seen a 2:09-level winning time, the last person to break 2:09 there being this year's runner-up Kipruto back in 2013. With Tokyo a week earlier and growing in stature into one of the world's very top-level races Lake Biwa is in an increasingly difficult position.
びわ湖毎日マラソン 日本人トップ 佐々木悟選手（旭化成） pic.twitter.com/XvkyfwHdNm— M.Kawaguchi (@rikujolove) March 5, 2017
Sasaki's run was solid and praiseworthy in and of itself, but in terms of the Japanese selection circus he had good reason not to find the good in what he had done. With all four selection races now wrapped up and the ten contenders for the team down, the top end of the standings look like this:
- Hiroto Inoue (Team MHPS) - 2:08:22, Tokyo Marathon, 8th
- Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:09:11, Fukuoka Int'l Marathon, 3rd
- Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:09:32, Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 1st
- Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:09:12, Tokyo Marathon, 10th
- Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:10, Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, 4th
Inoue is in, and he deserves it. There's basically no scenario in which Sasaki will be named to the team and there's equally no scenario in which the JAAF could honestly keep Kawauchi off, good news for Kawauchi on his 30th birthday. It essentially comes down to a decision between Nakamoto and Yamamoto, and while there's a good case to be made for either, Nakamoto, Japan's best championships marathoner, is almost sure to get the third spot. A simple and straightforward selection process like in the U.S.A. has its merits, but fans will be on pins and needles until the team lineup announcement following next weekend's Nagoya Women's Marathon.
Isshiki's DNF was probably the biggest disappointment for the fans. Apart from a fluke 2:10 debut by the now-retired Takehiro Deki his third year of university, Aoyama Gakuin head coach Susumu Hara has only showed aptitude for taking young runners to the 2:11~2:13 level so far. That hasn't stopped him from contending that his runners deserve priority in national team selection because, well, they are Aoyama Gakuin runners. With three-straight Hakone Ekiden wins and triple crown titles at all three major university ekidens last season Hara is without a doubt the best university coach in the business, but no matter how much he may hype himself up in the media, if he wants to talk marathon, until one of his runners drops a real one that's all he is, a very good college coach and a very good self-publicist.
One other observation. Tucked back in the field, American Tyler Andrews took 22nd in 2:16:07. As of this writing the two fastest American men's marathon times, two fastest American women's marathon times, and the fastest American women's half marathon time of 2017 have all been run in Japan. At the same time, Yamamoto was a near-miss for 3rd at November's New York City Marathon with a best-ever Japanese placing of 4th, and top-level Japanese talents Kenta Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei), Misato Horie (Team Noritz), Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) and others are set to run on the roads in big races in the U.S. this spring. The Japanese system gets a lot of things right and has its share of shortcomings, and the same is true of the U.S.A. The more exchange between the two that we see, the closer both countries can come to bridging the gap to the best.
Lake Biwa wasn't the only high-level marathon in Japan today. At the third running of the Shizuoka Marathon, Suzuki Hamamatsu AC teammates Michael Githae and Tadashi Suzuki pushed each other into unknown territory for an amateur-level race. Echoing Kawauchi's 2:09:54 win at last month's Ehime Marathon, defending champ Githae pulled away from Suzuki over the last 5 km to win in a course record and PB of 2:11:40. Suzuki was 2nd in 2:12:09, a large PB and a time that would have been good enough for 9th in Lake Biwa.
第2回 鹿児島マラソン— みさりん (@0335Love) March 5, 2017
優勝✨飛松 佑輔 選手
At the second edition of the Kagoshima Marathon, local club runner Yusuke Tobimatsu (Kagoshima Josai AC), co-front-runner with Kawauchi in Fukuoka through 25 km, outran the Koichi Morishita-coached Daichi Kato (Team Toyota Kyushu), Kazuya Deguchi of 2017 New Year Ekiden champion team Asahi Kasei and other corporate league competition to win in a course record and PB of 2:15:32. With a progression from his 2:20 debut in Kagoshima last year to 2:16:49 in Fukuoka to a negative split 2:15:32 win today Tobimatsu has put himself into position as arguably the second-most interesting amateur runner active in Japan.
72nd Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
Otsu, Shiga, 3/5/17
click here for complete results
1. Ezekiel Kiptoo Chebii (Kenya) - 2:09:06
2. Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) - 2:09:15
3. Munyo Solomon Mutai (Uganda) - 2:09:59 - PB
4. Satoru Sasaki (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:10
5. Kohei Matsumura (Japan/MHPS) - 2:11:04
6. Suehiro Ishikawa (Japan/Honda) - 2:11:05
7. Hayato Sonoda (Japan/Kurosaki Harima) - 2:11:32
8. Shoya Osaki (Japan/Chudenko) - 2:12:07 - PB
9. Yihuniligh Adane (Ethiopia) - 2:12:33
10. Daisuke Uekado (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:12:58 - PB
11. Yoshiki Takenouchi (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:13:33 - debut
12. Taiki Yoshimura (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:14:07
13. Hiroyuki Sasaki (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:14:16 - PB
14. Keita Baba (Japan/Honda) - 2:14:36 - debut
15. Norikazu Kato (Japan/Yakult) - 2:14:41
16. Shohei Otsuka (Japan/Komazawa Univ.) - 2:15:10 - debut
17. Hiroshi Ichida (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:15:15 - debut
18. Kenji Yamamoto (Japan/Mazda) - 2:15:19 - debut
19. Shuji Matsuo (Japan/Chudenko) - 2:15:22 - debut
20. Kazuya Namera (Japan/Subatru) - 2:15:45 - PB
21. Akinori Iida (Japan/Honda) - 2:15:50
22. Tyler Andrews (U.S.A.) - 2:16:07
23. Hideaki Tamura (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:16:08
24. Takuya Fujikawa (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:16:24 - debut
25. Chihiro Miyawaki (Japan/Toyota) - 2:16:51
26. Josh Harris (Australia) - 2:17:08 - PB
27. Thomas Frazer (Ireland) - 2:17:34 - PB
28. Akinobu Murasawa (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:17:51 - debut
29. Ryuji Okada (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:18:04 - debut
30. Yuya Asaka (Japan/Takada SDF Base) - 2:18:30 - debut
47. Koji Hayasaka (Ishinomaki RC) - 2:21:23
56. El Hassan El Abbassi (Bahrain) - 2:22:59 - debut
60. Hiroyuki Horibata (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:23:58
72. Takayuki Matsumiya (Japan/Aichi Seiko) - 2:25:31
DNF - Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea)
DNF - Tadashi Isshiki (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.)
DNF - Mourad Maroufit (Morocco)
DNF - Reiri Nakashima (Japan/Tokai Univ.)
DNF - Endeshaw Negesse (Ethiopia)
DNF - Byron Piedra (Ecuador)
DNF - John Tello (Colombia)
3rd Shizuoka Marathon
1. Michael Githae (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:11:40 - CR, PB
2. Tadashi Suzuki (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:12:09 - PB
3. Shunpei Oda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:17:01 - debut
2nd Kagoshima Marathon
1. Yusuke Tobimatsu (Kagoshima Josai AC) - 2:15:32 - CR, PB
2. Daichi Kato (Toyota Kyushu) - 2:16:55 - PB
3. Takahiro Nakamura (Kyocera Kagoshima) - 2:17:51
1. Emi Sakihama (Nantic) - 2:48:22 - PB
2. Kazumi Sakaguchi (unattached) - 2:54:16
3. Hisayo Matsumoto (unattached) - 2:57:20
© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved