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Beppu-Oita, Marugame and More - Weekend Preview

With championship ekiden season a wrap this weekend gets Japan's winter road racing season up to full steam. The main race of the weekend is Sunday's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. Everything is about qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics more-or-less one-shot trials right now, and that's obvious with a look at what's probably the strongest-ever Beppu-Oita entry list. Ten men in the field have broken 2:10 in the last three years, five of them Japanese, with last year's top two Desmond Mokgobu (South Africa) and Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) leading the way.

Sonoda, Daisuke Uekado (Otsuka Seiyaku) and 2018 Hokkaido Marathon winner Naoki Okamoto (Chugoku Denryoku) have already qualified for September's MGC Race trials event, but anyone else in the 2:10 to 2:11 range will have a shot. With a 2:09:36 in Tokyo last year Kohei Ogino (Fujitsu) only needs to run 2:12:24 to qualify, making him the probable favorite to qualify, but the field also features the debuts of sub-61 and sub-62 half marathoners Keijiro Mogi and Shuho Dairokuno of three-time national champion Asahi Kasei.

Along with Mokgobu recent 2:08 runners Hicham Laqouahi (Morocco) and Abdela Godana (Ethiopia) and 2018 Muenster Marathon winner Justus Kiprotich (Kenya) make up the front end of the international field, raising a strong chance of a sub-2:10 winning time if the weather cooperates. Right now the forecast is looking good, with temperatures in the mid-teens and cloudy skies shifting to light rain later in the day. All that remains to be seen are the infamous Oita winds. Beppu-Oita will be broadcast live nationwide on TBS starting at 11:50 a.m. Follow @JRNLive for English-language coverage.

Also Sunday is the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon, one of Japan's top races all around. Last year's Kenyan winners Betsy Saina and Edward Waweru are both on the entry list again, up against tough competition including Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal), Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post), Sinead Diver (Australia) and Sara Hall (U.S.A.) on the women's side and Geoffrey Kirui (Kenya), Shadrack Kiplagat (Kenya) and Evans Cheruiyot (Kenya) on the men's. Suzuki's debut is one of the more exciting parts of the race, along with that of Richard Ringer (Germany), both with great histories in the track 10000 m behind them. The weather in Marugame looks to be similar to that in Oita with temperatures a few degrees cooler.

Along with Marugame, the Kanagawa Half Marathon and Moriya Half Marathon each feature loads of university men, both Hakone Ekiden regulars and B-team runners trying to make the jump to their schools' A-rosters. Kanagawa in particular has grown into a quality race with winning times in the 62-minute range and depth approaching that of some of the higher-level Japanese half marathons. Hakone Ekiden top four programs Aoyama Gakuin University and Komazawa University are Kanagawa regulars, but look for plenty of others to be right there with them. No rain is in the forecast for either race, making for excellent conditions overall.

© 2019 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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

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

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1st, 2018 Chugoku Corporate Ekiden Sixth Stage (19.0 km), 56:25 – CR
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