Skip to main content

Kawauchi Breaks Mekonnen's Sub-2:12 World Record


For the last few years Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede and Japan's Yuki Kawauchi have been in a race to erase serial marathoner great Abebe Mekonnen from the record books. At one point Mekennon held a controlling share of the sub-x marathon world records, the number of times an athlete ran under 2:** in their career. Kebede has been taking Mekonnen's records away from the faster end and Kawauchi from the slower, finally meeting each other at the sub-2:12 level. Kawauchi got there first, tying Mekonnen's record of 22 at May's Prague Marathon. With his 2:09:18 at Sunday's Gold Coast Airport Marathon Kawauchi took away Mekonnen's last record as he marked his 23rd career sub-2:12, the first man in history to run such depth at quality.

His Gold Coast performance extended Kawauchi's range to every record from sub-2:12 to sub-2:19. Looking ahead, he is now 8 races away from tying American Doug Kurtis' record of 76 career sub-2:20 marks. With 6 more marathons on his schedule this year he should get that record early next spring. His Gold Coast time also brought Kawauchi within 3 races of tying Kebede's record of 21 sub-2:11 marathons. It has been just over 6 years since Kawauchi first went sub-2:11, meaning that at his usual rate Kawauchi should get that record by the fall of 2018 assuming Kebede doesn't take it much further before he gets there.

Kawauchi is also now 5 races away from tying Kebede's record of 17 sub-2:10s. It has taken him 70 marathons to run his 12 sub-2:10s to date, 2 per year in the 6 years since he first did it at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon. Kawauchi hopes to run 100 marathons sub-2:20 by the time of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just over 3 years away. At the same average rate of progress, which included a year lost to dealing with injury in 2015, he'll be set to run his 18th sub-2:10 at the 2020 Gold Coast Airport Marathon just before the Olympics. If he's able to pull it off and nobody else gets there first Kawauchi will then hold every record from sub-2:10 to sub-2:20.

And not just that.



This spring Kawauchi also broke Kenyan Philemon Metto's world record for sub-1:06 half marathons, running his 72nd career sub-1:06, and with just 7 more races to go to Metto's sub-1:05 record of 56 that one seems likely to fall next year too. At 24 career sub-1:04 half marathons he's also 10 races away from Metto's record of 34. It's taken Kawauchi 10 years to run 24 of them, meaning that with a bit of luck he could take that record before Tokyo 2020 as well. And with a 2:47:35 at last month's Okinoshima 50 km, an annual fixture on his calendar, Kawauchi now holds the records for most sub-2:50, sub-2:49 and sub-2:48 marks for 50 km. With a 2:44:07 best he co-holds the next 3 records, and at just 30 seconds from a new world record and 3 more attempts to go before Tokyo 2020 he could well get it.

The most common question Kawauchi gets from media and fans outside Japan is some variation on "I love what you're doing and all, but don't you think if you just focused on one race like everyone else you could run faster?" or "Don't you think if you just focused on one race you could win a Major?" I come from a music background, so to put it in those terms, they're asking him, "Your music is great and all, but don't you think if you focused you could write a hit single?" There's nothing wrong with writing hits and I'm sure he wouldn't object if he scored one, but is that the only reason people play music? Maybe he knows he's not fast enough to be Taylor Swift. Maybe he's not out to write the summer's hot track or something people will be dancing to at their high school reunions ten years down the road. Maybe he's out to write something larger, a life's work, a symphony that will still move people generations from now. Something nobody will ever surpass.

It has only been this spring that what Kawauchi is really up to has started to come into focus, the connections between the different themes in his work, where he's going with what has seemed like arbitrary craziness up to now, how it's all going to reach resolution. With every new race, every new measure and phrase, that resolution he's envisioning is drawing closer. Something with depth, quality and range like nobody has ever attempted before. It's ambitious and dangerous and could all be cut short at any time, but if he pulls it off, if he makes it to that final chord, that final note, what a work of profound beauty Kawauchi will be gifting the world.

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

One Month Until the Japanese Olympic Marathon Trials

It's one month to go until what's bound to be the best marathon of 2019, Japan's 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon trials, the Sept. 15 Marathon Grand Championship Race. Up to now Japan has typically picked its Olympic and World Championships marathon teams based on performances in a series of specific races, primarily the Fukuoka International Marathon, Tokyo Marathon and Lake Biwa Marathon for men, and the Saitama International Marathon, Osaka International Women's Marathon and Nagoya Women's Marathon for women. This time around they're going with a U.S.-style one-shot trials race, the MGC Race.

People had a nearly two-year window from August, 2017 to April this year to hit tough standards to qualify. Only 34 men and 15 women made it, and after withdrawals for the Doha World Championships the MGC Race's final entry list is just 31 men and 12 women. Swedish Athletics Federation official Lorenzo Nesicalled it "the most difficult marathon race ever to quali…

MGC Race Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier - Naoki Okamoto

Naoki Okamotoage: 35
sponsor: Chugoku Denryoku
graduated from: Tottori Chuo Ikuei H.S., Meiji University

best time inside MGC window:
2:11:29, 1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon

PB: 2:11:29, 1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon

other PBs:
5000 m: 13:37.71 (2009) 10000 m: 28:05.84 (2011) half marathon: 1:02:16 (2009)

marathons inside MGC window (Aug. 1 2017 – April 30 2019)
DNF, 2019 Beppu-Oita Marathon
1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon, 2:11:29 – PB
DNF, 2018 Boston Marathon

other major results:
4th, 2019 Shibetsu Half Marathon, 1:03:53
2nd, 2019 New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.4 km), 1:05:13
1st, 2018 Chugoku Corporate Ekiden Sixth Stage (19.0 km), 56:25 – CR
1st, 2018 Ome 30 km Road Race, 1:33:09
21st, 2017 Tokyo Marathon, 2:13:53

We’re picking Okamoto as our official dark horse of the men’s race. The second-oldest man in a field, Okamoto is a journeyman corporate leaguer who never broke 2:12 and whose PBs all came a decade ago. But, nearing the end of his career, over the last two years he has really come on…

Running the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Marathon Course Part Three - Men's Marathon and Overall Summary

Today marks one year until the men's marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. For the third time in the last week, once last Friday with one year to go to the Olympic women's marathon, once on Monday with a likely competitor in the men's marathon, and again today, I ran most of the Olympic marathon course taking temperature and humidity readings every half an hour to get a handle on what kind of conditions athletes in each race can expect to be facing. Between the three runs I covered about 80 km, and including the two times I did it last summer two years out from the women's marathon and men's marathon about 135 km, on the Olympic course. To get it out of the way off the bat, a couple of days ago a few readers told me that the Buy Me A Coffee button wasn't working. I think the problem has been fixed, so if you're so inclined please feel free to use it. Your support for JRN is always really appreciated.

And now on to the run.


This time out I went to the start …