Just over seven months since Yuta Shitara broke Toshinari Takaoka's longstanding 2:06:16 national record from the 2002 Chicago Marathon with a 2:06:11 in Tokyo in February, U.S.-based Suguru Osako brought the record back home to Chicago with a 3rd-place finish in 2:05:50.
Running the same pattern as in his first two marathons, Osako sat back in the lead men's pack, never exerting himself as it whittled down to the core members. Just past the turn into Chinatown near 35 km his Nike Oregon Project teammate and 2017 Chicago winner Galen Rupp fell off the front group to leave Osako in contention with former NOP member Mo Farah, 2:04 Ethiopian Mosinet Gemerew, former Asahi Kasei runner Kenneth Kipkemoi and 2017 world champion Geoffrey Kirui.
As in Boston and Fukuoka last year, when the real move came, this time in the form of a surge by Farah and Gemerew, Osako was left behind to battle it out for 3rd. While Farah kicked away for the win by 13 seconds in a European record 2:05:11, Osako got the drop on Kipkemoi, celebrating in the home stretch as he became the first Japanese man to break 2:06 and setting a new Asian record. As with Shitara in the spring, Osako scored a 100 million yen bonus, roughly $880,000 USD at the current exchange rate, from the Japanese corporate federation's Project Exceed program on top of his race winnings. No doubt it was the biggest payday among the podium finishers.
And he wasn't the only one. Hanging on to Osako until late in the race despite having only a 2:15:30 debut to his name, Taku Fujimoto outkicked Japan-based Bedan Karoki to take 8th in 2:07:57. Under Project Exceed he earned a 5 million yen bonus, $44,000 USD. "I can't believe it!" he told JRN post-race. "Neither can I," said his coach Toshinobu Sato. Fujimoto's run and disbelief echoed his 2010 breakthrough win at the Kanto Regionals meet in university when he said, "I feel like I woke up in someone else's life." Another corporate league runner who went with the early fast pace, even briefly taking the lead at 25 km, Yohei Suzuki cut over two minutes off his PB to finish 12th in 2:12:18.
2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi was the only Japanese man not to go with the front group, opting to run a more conservative first half with the second group pacers in hopes of a negative split. Despite cool and rainy conditions that suited him perfectly, Kawauchi faded off target early in the second half, dropping to 19th in 2:16:26. Post-race he despondently told Japanese media, "I just couldn't move. I had trouble training in the heat in Saitama this summer. I knew some of my results over the summer weren't great but I thought I had put it all together for this race. I'm ashamed to have run a time like this in Chicago and it only reinforces how much I'm looking forward to leaving my job so I can go away somewhere cooler this summer and do the kind of training that will let me be competitive in a race like this."
Kawauchi didn't have the worst day among the Japanese men in Chicago. After an excellent first few marathons peaking in a 2:08:08 in Tokyo this year, Ryo Kiname went out with the lead group for the first 5 km. Backing off the pace at that point he held steady through a 1:05:12 halfway split before abruptly slowing between 25 and 30 km. Shortly after that he was out of the race.
After a 15-year-plus drought the Japanese national record has gone down twice this year, and there is likely still a little more yet to come. With both Osako and Shitara earning the biggest public paydays in the sport and others like 2nd Japanese man in Tokyo Hiroto Inoue, Fujimoto and Kiname showing the motivation to go for the kinds of times that would score them Project Exceed bonuses it looks like sometimes throwing money at a problem can be the answer. That's also to be seen in the competitiveness of the Japanese men's performances in the 2018 Abbott World Marathon Majors:
2nd, Tokyo Marathon: Yuta Shitara (NR)
1st, Boston Marathon: Yuki Kawauchi
London Marathon: none
4th, Berlin Marathon: Shogo Nakamura
3rd, Chicago Marathon: Suguru Osako (NR)
New York City Marathon: none
Between Osako and Inoue, who followed up on his 2:06:54 in Tokyo with the first Asian Games men's marathon gold medal for Japan in 32 years, it looks like Japan may have the medal contenders it needs for Tokyo 2020. Shitara may be a question mark, but we'll find out where he stands when he faces Osako in a Vaporfly-powered head-to-head at next March's Tokyo Marathon. He'll have extra motivation: athletes are eligible to win the 100 million yen Project Exceed bonus once per fiscal year. Osako won't win another jackpot if he breaks his own record in Tokyo, but with Shitara having done it in the last fiscal year it's his for the taking if he can better Osako's mark this time. You can be sure he'll be gunning for it.
2018 Bank of America Chicago MarathonChicago, U.S.A., 10/7/18
1. Mo Farah (Great Britain) - 2:05:11 - AR
2. Mosinet Gemerew (Ethiopia) - 2:05:24
3. Suguru Osako (Japan/Nike Oregon Project) - 2:05:50 - AR
4. Kenneth Kipkemoi (Kenya) - 2:05:57
5. Galen Rupp (U.S.A.) - 2:06:21
6. Geoffrey Kirui (Kenya) - 2:06:45
7. Abel Kirui (Kenya) - 2:07:52
8. Taku Fujimoto (Japan/Toyota) - 2:07:57 - PB
9. Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA) - 2:07:59
10. Birhanu Legese (Ethiopia) - 2:08:41
12. Yohei Suzuki (Japan/Aisan Kogyo) - 2:12:18 - PB
19. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:16:26
DNF - Augustine Choge (Kenya)
DNF - Dickson Chumba (Kenya)
DNF - Ryo Kiname (MHPS)
DNF - Stephen Sambu (Kenya)
1. Brigid Kosgei (Kenya) - 2:18:35 - PB
2. Roza Dereje (Ethiopia) - 2:21:18
3. Shure Demise (Ethiopia) - 2:22:15
4. Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:26:08
5. Veronicah Nyaruai (Kenya) - 2:31:34
6. Sarah Crouch (U.S.A.) - 2:32:37
7. Taylor Ward (U.S.A.) - 2:32:42
8. Kate Landau (U.S.A.) - 2:33:24
9. Melanie Myrand (Canada) - 2:34:08
10. Marci Klimek (U.S.A.) - 2:34:53
DNF - Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia)
DNF - Laura Thweatt (U.S.A.)
© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved