The Fukuoka International Marathon is traditionally the main event on the Japanese calendar the first Sunday in December. Internationally its star is fading as Valencia's rises, but Fukuoka has still managed to pull together the kind of boutique field that has been its signature for decades. Moroccan El Mahjoub Dazza ran 2:05:26 in Valencia two years ago and leads four guys including 2018 European marathon champion Koen Naert (Belgium) under 2:08 plus the debuting Shadrack Kiplagat (Kenya) and 9 others in the 2:08~2:09 range.
Domestically Fukuoka is the first race in the Final Challenge series, the chance for a Japanese man to steal the third spot on the 2020 Sapporo Olympic marathon team if he can break ex-Nike Oregon Projector Suguru Osako's 2:05:50 national record. There's not much chance that'll happen, but there are three people who could conceivably come close, Yuki Sato (Nissin Shokuhin), 1:02:04 through halfway in Tokyo this spring, Taku Fujimoto (Toyota), 2:07:57 in Chicago behind Osako last year, and Keita Shitara (Hitachi Butsuryu), twin brother of Osako's NR predecessor Yuta Shitara (Honda). Fukuoka will be broadcast live on TV Asahi starting at noon Sunday, with live 5 km split times scheduled on the official race site. JRN will cover the race on @JRNLive. A detailed field listing can be had here.
Valencia isn't the only marathon putting pressure on Fukuoka. It's got newfound domestic competition from one of the world's biggest marathons, the Osaka Marathon, finally throwing its had into the elite racing ring after a decade as a sort of unofficial amateur national championships. On the men's side it's got 2:07:54 Ethiopian Asefa Tefera and four other recent sub-2:10 guys including Japan's greatest championships marathoner Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki), plus former world record holder Dennis Kimetto (Kenya).
On the women's side the favorite is 2:24:30 Ethiopian Aberu Mekuria Zennebe, with five other current sub-2:30 women in the mix. Past Osaka winner Yumiko Kinoshita reps Japan's amateurs. Look for Osaka to make big inroads in Japanese marathoning with a faster new course and IAAF/World Athletics road race labels bound to come its way. More on the men's and women's fields here.
Alongside Fukuoka, another historic elite road race happens Sunday in Kyushu at the Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler. Far and away the world's #1 race of its distance, Kosa acts as one of the major tuneups for the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden. This year it's got loads of top domestic talent in the field including Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu), Shuho Dairokuno (Asahi Kasei), Hiroto Inoue (MHPS) and Kenji Yamamoto (Mazda), plus one of the deepest international fields it's ever had.
There's action on the track at the Nittai University Time Trials, where Doha World Championships women's 5000 m finalist Nozomi Tanaka (TJAC), the only Japanese woman to have cleared the 2020 Tokyo Olympics standard in the 5000 m, tunes up for a shot at Kayoko Fukushi's 3000 m national record next week in Yamaguchi.
The only one to have cleared the women's 10000 m standard, Hitomi Niiya (Nike Tokyo TC) returns to the half marathon distance for the first time in over 11 years with a training run effort planned at Sunday's Minato City Half Marathon. There she'll face last year's winner Shiho Kaneshige (GRLab Kanto), running two weeks after a PB of 2:31:56 for 5th at the Kobe Marathon. Kobe winner Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) is likewise wasting no time getting back at it, running the Singapore Marathon Saturday night.
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