Continuing the best year in Japanese men's marathoning history, one that has seen the last generation of Hakone Ekiden talent finally deliver on the brilliance they showed at Hakone in college, former Toyo University leader Yuma Hattori (Toyota) ran 2:07:27 to become the first Japanese man to win the Fukuoka International Marathon since 2004.
In warmer than usual conditions the lead pack ran steadily through 25 km on pace for between 2:07:15 and 2:07:20, perfect for getting as many men as could take it through the rapidly closing qualification window for the MGC Race 2020 Olympic trials. Early casualties included World Championships medalists Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (Eritrea) and Japan's best championships marathoner, Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki). Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), who rebounded from the low point of his career this fall with excellent times in races the last two weekends, was off the back of the pack after just 10 km, settling in with a small group including sub-2:10 marathoners Koji Gokaya (JR Higashi Nihon) and Masanori Sakai (Kyudenko) to bide his time.
Up front the pace slowed between 25 and 30 km, prompting Hattori, 2016 Fukuoka winner Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) and two-time 5th-placer Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea) to drop the rest of the pack and try to get it back in gear. In his debut at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon while still at Toyo, Hattori dropped a 14:54 split from 30 to 35 km only to pay for it after 40 km. This time he showed growth and maturity, waiting until past 35 km to make the same kind of move. Dropping down to 2:55/km and faster Hattori said goodbye to the more experienced Tsegay and Mesel, opening a gap of over a minute and a half to become Japan's first home winner since Tsuyoshi Ogata 14 years ago.
Celebrating in the home straight, Hattori's time of 2:07:27 took over two minutes off his best and moved him up to all-time #8 on the Japanese charts. It also made him the 19th man to qualify for the MGC Race, joining teammate Taku Fujimoto (Toyota) who ran 2:07:57 in Chicago two months ago to qualify. Tsegay was 2nd in 2:08:54, joining Fukuoka course record holder Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) and Abel Kirui (Kenya) as only the third man to run sub-2:10 fifteen times in his career. Mesel was 3rd in 2:09:45, the only other man to break 2:10.
Half marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara (Honda), a Toyo teammate of Hattori and on the mend from a stress fracture in the spring, was 4th in 2:10:25, outrunning Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon runner-up Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) by 6 seconds. Both Shitara and Sonoda were already qualified for the MGC Race and so did not count in scoring, opening the door for 4th and 5th Japanese men Hiroki Yamagishi (GMO) and Jo Fukuda (Nishitetsu) to qualify at 6th and 7th overall in 2:10:42 and 2:10:54. Rio Olympian Satoru Sasaki came up short in 2:11:40, meaning that two-time defending New Year Ekiden national champion team Asahi Kasei, considered the traditional powerhouse of Japanese marathoning, has yet to qualify a single athlete.
Yamagishi's teammate Ryo Hashimoto (GMO) was 9th in 2:11:40, caught at the line by Sasaki. Behind them, Kawauchi rolled back up through the field over the second, closing with the fastest split after Hattori from 40 km to the finish to take 10th in 2:12:03. His second-fastest time of a year of highs and lows, Kawauchi's performance was his 50th time sub-2:14, another landmark in a career built on them. Two weeks from now at the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon he will try to better his 2:11:46 season best from February's Kitakyushu Marathon.
Behind him, 100 km world record holder Nao Kazami (Aisan Kogyo) ran down former Hakone Ekiden uphill darling Daichi Kamino (New Balance) to take 26th in 2:18:18. 100 km World Championships silver medalist Takehiko Gyoba (Ashiya T&F Assoc.) was 41st in 2:22:16. Four places back from him, Malaysian national record holder Huong-Leong Tan took another minute off his own record from the Tokyo Marathon with a new mark of 2:24:04.
72nd Fukuoka International MarathonFukuoka, 12/2/18
1. Yuma Hattori (Toyota) - 2:07:27 - all-time JPN #8, MGC Race qualifier
2. Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) - 2:08:54 - 15th career sub-2:10
3. Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea) - 2:09:45
4. Yuta Shitara (Honda) - 2:10:25
5. Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) - 2:10:31
6. Hiroki Yamagishi (GMO) - 2:10:42 - MGC race qualifier
7. Jo Fukuda (Nishitetsu) - 2:10:54 - MGC race qualifier
8. Satoru Sasaki (Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:40
9. Ryo Hashimoto (GMO) - 2:11:40
10. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:12:03 - 50th career sub-2:14
11. Koji Gokaya (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:23
12. Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:32
13. Shinobu Kubota (Toyota) - 2:13:02
14. Takuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta) - 2:13:21
15. Masanori Sakai (Kyudenko) - 2:13:54
16. Kansuke Morihashi (Raffine) - 2:15:25
17. Chiharu Takada (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:47
18. Kohei Ogino (Fujitsu) - 2:16:04
19. Kazuya Ishida (Nishitetsu) - 2:16:18
20. Shogo Kanezane (Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:16:32
21. Takuya Fukatsu (Asahi Kasei) - 2:17:03
22. Kazuki Muramoto (Sumitomo Denko) - 2:17:16
23. Fumihiro Maruyama (Asahi Kasei) - 2:17:38
24. Yoshiki Koizumi (Raffine) - 2:18:05
25. Tatsunori Hamasaki (Nanji AC) - 2:18:10
26. Nao Kazami (Aisan Kogyo) - 2:18:18
29. Daichi Kamino (New Balance) - 2:19:28
41. Takehiko Gyoba (Ashiya T&F Assoc.) - 2:22:16
44. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Konica Minolta) - 2:23:47
45. Huong-Leong Tan (Malaysia) - 2:24:04 - NR
46. Hiroshi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) - 2:24:05
72. Jeffrey Eggleston (U.S.A.) - 2:28:47
DNF - Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (Eritrea)
DNF - Kenichi Jiromaru (Raffine)
DNF - Vincent Kipruto (Kenya)
DNF - Saeki Makino (DNPL)
DNF - Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki)
DNF - Brett Robinson (Australia)
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