Three main races make up this weekend's action, the Fukuoka International Marathon, Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler and Nittai University Time Trials. 2018 has been the best year in history for Japanese men's marathoning, and Fukuoka is sure to add to the numbers. There hasn't been a Japanese winner in Fukuoka since Tsuyoshi Ogata in 2004, and with ten recent sub-2:10 Japanese in the field including half marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara (Honda) and a few others with potential for high-level breakthroughs or longshot comebacks it wouldn't be surprising to see someone overcome the relatively weak international field.
The loss of Callum Hawkins (Great Britain) to injury takes some of the spark out of the international contingent, leaving a group of East Africans at their peak a few seasons back and now in range of any Japanese man looking to run at the 2:07 to 2:08 level. 2011 World Championships silver medalist Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) is the only one to stand out of late with a 2:06:14 in Berlin last year, a time that would be a challenge for anyone on the Japanese roster except for a fully fit Shitara. Shitara's coach Satoshi Ogawa told JRN that Shitara only plans to run around 2:09 as a step toward a full comeback from the stress fracture that kept him out of competition most of the year, so he might be the one to end up head-to-head with Kipruto or whoever else goes out front.
But more than who actually wins, Fukuoka this year is more about the numbers. Eighteen men have qualified for September's MGC Race 2020 Olympic trials race so far, and with the window to qualify closing rapidly Fukuoka will be one of the last chances for people to make it. Five men in the field have already done it, and there are at least a dozen others who could join them. As with Hawkins, the loss of the best contender to make the MGC Race, Asuka Tanaka (Hiramatsu AC) takes some of the sparkle off the finish, but there's still lots of room for lots of intrigue in the race to qualify. In particular, two-time New Year Ekiden national champion Asahi Kasei, reputed to be the hallowed home of Japanese marathoning, has yet to qualify a single runner for the MGC Race. It has five of its top men in Fukuoka. Will any qualify?
And beyond just the Olympic trials, Japanese men's marathoning is edging toward something historic. At the moment 95 Japanese men have broken 2:10 a total of 187 times. At some point in the next few months we're going to see those numbers go to 100 men and 200 times. Neither is likely to happen in Fukuoka, but how close will it go? We'll know soon enough. Find more on MGC Race qualification and a detailed field listing here.
For corporate men not running Fukuoka and for some of the better university men, Sunday's Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler will serve as the last major tuneup for the New Year Ekiden and Hakone Ekiden. The sheer depth of quality that means makes Kosa the world's #1 10-mile road race by a long shot. Loads of the best Japan-based Africans like three-time winner Jeremiah Thuku Karemi (Toyota Jidoshokki), Hachioji Long Distance winner Dadi Tulu Merga (Yasukawa Denki) and William Malel (Honda) will be on the line alongside top Japanese men including Shuho Dairokuno (Asahi Kasei), Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei), Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.), Taku Fujimoto (Toyota), Kenji Yamamoto (Mazda) and Masato Imai (Toyota Jidoshokki). Also in the field is Sweden's David Nilsson, wrapping up a successful three-week stint in Japan that saw him break the Swedish half marathon national record two weeks ago in Ageo. JRN will be on-site in Kosa to support Nilsson and cover the race live.
Other corporate and university men, and high schoolers tuning up for next month's National High School Ekiden Championships and corporate league women looking for fast late-season times will be in Yokohama for the last full Nittai University Time Trials meet of the season. The last two editions saw world-leading men's 10000 m times. That doesn't look likely this time around, but the men's 5000 m A-heat is packed with talent domestic and imported, including Keita Shitara (Hitachi Butsuryu), Hazuma Hattori (Toenec), Hiroki Matsueda (Fujitsu), Peter Langat (SGH Group) and Cyrus Loikon (Aichi Seiko).
2018 World U20 Championships 3000 m gold medalist Nozomi Tanaka (ND 28 AC) is the main draw in the women's races, entered in both the 3000 m and 5000 m. A-heats. If she runs the 5000 m it should be a pretty good race, with rivals including Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu (Meijo Univ.), Yuna Wada (Meijo Univ.), Tabitha Kamau (Kamimura Gakuen H.S.), Martha Mokaya (Oita Tomei H.S.), Azusa Sumi (Univ. Ent.), Rina Nabeshima (Japan Post), and Hanami Sekine (Japan Post) on the entry list.
© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved