The best year in Japanese men’s marathon history is drawing to a close, and with it the chances for them to qualify for the new MGC Race 2020 Olympic trials are running out. The Dec. 2nd Fukuoka International Marathon features one of the best Japanese fields ever assembled, with ten Japanese men under 2:10 since 2016 offering it a good chance of its first home-grown winner since 2004. Five have already qualified for the MGC Race and will line up there alongside dozens of hopefuls who have three ways to make the cut:
1. Go under 2:08:30.
2. Be in the top three Japanese men under 2:11:00 not counting those who are already qualified, or in the next three and under 2:10:00.
3. Average under 2:11:00 between Fukuoka and one other marathon since August, 2017.
Places at the 2019 Doha World Championships are also in the mix, but with the MGC Race scheduled to be held just a couple of weeks before Doha it’s safe to say virtually nobody is aiming for that team.
Half marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara (Honda), 2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t), 2017 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki), Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) and Yoshiki Takenouchi (NTT Nishi Nihon) make up the list of those already qualified for the MGC Race, Shitara running a marathon for the first time since his now-former national record 2:06:11 in Tokyo in February and Kawauchi hoping to turn things back around after a string of bad races since Boston.
Those with a realistic chance of qualifying off the two-race average include 2017 Gold Coast Marathon winner Takuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta), who missed it by seconds at this year’s Gold Coast, recent sub-2:10 men Kohei Ogino (Fujitsu), Yuma Hattori (Toyota) and Jo Fukuda (Nishitetsu), and a trio who finished together just over the 2:10 mark in Tokyo this year, Asuka Tanaka (Hiramatsu Byoin), Hiroki Yamagishi (GMO) and Daichi Kamino (New Balance).
There’s a good number of others on the list who ran well in 2015 and 2016 and will be hoping to get back on board in Fukuoka, including sub-2:10 teammates Takuya Fukatsu, Fumihiro Maruyama and Satoru Sasaki (all Asahi Kasei), and given the depth of Japanese men’s marathoning and the tendency for dark horses to post seemingly out-of-nowhere breakthroughs like Taku Fujimoto (Toyota) earlier this month in Chicago there’s almost no limit to who else could have their day. Twins Hiroshi and Takashi Ichida (both Asahi Kasei) would make a lot of people happy if they finally broke through in Fukuoka. Both 100 km world record holder Nao Kazami (Aisan Kogyo) and 100 km silver medalist Takehiko Gyoba (Ashiya T&F Assoc.) are also in the race.
It being a nominally international marathon, Fukuoka also has its usual small contingent of overseas runners perfectly positioned to pace the Japanese men to times in the 2:07 to 2:08 range and to lend a little shine to the race with their medals. 2011 world championships silver medalist Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) tops the list with a 2:06:14 in Berlin last year, with 2015 world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (Eritrea) and past Fukuoka champ Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) potentially in range of the win if they can show some of their past ability again. Last year Norway’s Sondre Moen broke through with a European record win in Fukuoka. The talented Callum Hawkins (Great Britian) could be poised to follow Moen’s lead with a breakthrough performance after a 1:01:00 at last weekend's Valencia Half Marathon.
Check back closer to race date for live broadcast details and more coverage.
Fukuoka International Marathon Elite Field HighlightsFukuoka, Dec. 2, 2018
complete field listing
times listed are best in last three years except where noted
Yuta Shitara (Japan/Honda) – 2:06:11 (2nd, Tokyo 2018)
Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) – 2:06:14 (5th, Berlin 2017)
Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (Eritrea) – 2:07:46 (4th, London 2016)
Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) – 2:08:48 (1st, Fukuoka Int’l 2016)
Takuya Noguchi (Japan/Konica Minolta) – 2:08:59 (1st, Gold Coast 2017)
Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov’t) – 2:09:01 (2nd, Gold Coast 2016)
Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea) – 2:09:22 (5th, Fukuoka Int’l 2017)
Takuya Fukatsu (Japan/Asahi Kasei) – 2:09:31 (5th, Lake Biwa 2016)
Kentaro Nakamoto (Japan/Yasukawa Denki) – 2:09:32 (1st, Beppu-Oita 2017)
Hayato Sonoda (Japan/Kurosaki Harima) – 2:09:34 (2nd, Beppu-Oita 2018)
Kohei Ogino (Japan/Fujitsu) – 2:09:36 (12th, Tokyo 2018)
Fumihiro Maruyama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) – 2:09:39 (6th, Lake Biwa 2016)
Yuma Hattori (Japan/Toyota) – 2:09:46 (13th, Tokyo 2017)
Jo Fukuda (Japan/Nishitetsu) – 2:09:52 (3rd, Gold Coast 2018)
Yoshiki Takenouchi (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) – 2:10:01 (7th, Fukuoka Int’l 2017)
Satoru Sasaki (Japan/Asahi Kasei) – 2:10:10 (4th, Lake Biwa 2017)
Asuka Tanaka (Japan/Hiramatsu Byoin) – 2:10:13 (16th, Tokyo 2018)
Hiroki Yamagishi (Japan/GMO) – 2:10:14 (17th, Tokyo 2018)
Callum Hawkins (Great Britain) – 2:10:17 (4th, London World Champs 2017)
Daichi Kamino (Japan/New Balance) – 2:10:18 (18th, Tokyo 2018)
Ryo Hashimoto (Japan/GMO) – 2:10:19 (4th, Gold Coast 2017)
Chiharu Takada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) – 2:10:43 (4th, Gold Coast 2016)
Tatsunori Hamasaki (Japan/Nanji AC) – 2:11:26 (2nd, Hofu 2017)
Ryu Takaku (Japan/Yakult) – 2:11:45 (6th, Gold Coast 2018)
Paul Kuira (Kenya/Konica Minolta) – 2:11:58 (2nd, Hokkaido 2018)
Kazuya Ishida (Japan/Nishitetsu) - 2:12:25 (4th, Beppu-Oita 2016)
Keisuke Tanaka (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:12:41 (4th, Nobeoka 2018)
Keisuke Kusaka (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:12:42 (9th, Beppu-Oita 2017)
Shogo Kanezane (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:12:58 (6th, Hofu 2017)
Masanori Sakai (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:13:31 (23rd, Tokyo 2018)
Yoshiki Koizumi (Japan/Raffine) - 2:13:50 (25th, Tokyo 2018)
Koji Gokaya (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:13:52 (22nd, Tokyo 2017)
Jeffrey Eggleston (U.S.A.) – 2:14:00 (4th, Warsaw 2017)
Kansuke Morihashi (Japan/Raffine) - 2:14:25 (27th, Tokyo 2018)
Yoshiki Otsuka (Japan/Aichi Seiko) - 2:14:32 (17th, Beppu-Oita 2018)
Hiroshi Ichida (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:14:42 (3rd, Nagano 2018)
Kenichi Jiromaru (Japan/Raffine)- 2:14:48 (31st, Tokyo 2018)
Takashi Ichida (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:15:09 (35th, Tokyo 2018
Yusuke Tobimatsu (Japan/Hioki City Hall) - 2:15:32 (1st, Kagoshima 2017)
Kinya Hashira (Japan/Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:15:51 (38th, Tokyo 2018)
Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Japan/Koncia Minolta) - 2:15:57 (9th, Hokkaido 2018)
Nao Kazami (Japan/Aisan Kogyo) - 2:17:23 (22nd, Fukuoka Int'l 2017)
Shinobu Kubota (Japan/Toyota) - 2:19:18 (28th, Lake Biwa 2018)
Takehiko Gyoba (Japan/Ashiya T&F Assoc.) - 2:19:47 (13th, Gold Coast 2017)
Brett Robinson (Australia) - 1:04:15 ((1st, Melbourne Half 2018)
text and photo © 2018 Brett Larner