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Local Runner Tomoya Adachi Takes Beppu-Oita Marathon in Debut

by Brett Larner

While much of the rest of Japan struggled with heavy snow, clear skies, cool temperatures and gentle winds greeted the runners in the 42nd Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in Oita Prefecture. Beppu-Oita, or Betsudai as the race is usually known, has the reputation of being a development for younger runners to break through into the front ranks of Japanese marathoning. This year's race lived up to the event's reputation.

A large pack of 16 runners with 2 pacemakers ran together through the first half of the race, passing 5 km in 15:19. 2003 L.A. Marathon winner Mark Yatich was the first to drop off the pack. Race commentators passed along their condolensces to Yatich, whose older brother was killed last week in the ongoing strife within Kenya. By 10 km the pack was down to 14 runners plus the pacemakers, going through the mark in 30:29. 15 km (45:50) and 20 km (1:01:16) passed mostly without event. Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki's Yoichi Watanabe slipped and fell shortly before the 18 km mark but quickly rejoined the pack. Team JAL Ground Service's Daniel Mwangi appeared to have a collision with Asheber Girma of Ethiopia at a water station shortly after 20 km, Mwangi losing a shoe and Girma dropping off the pack.

The group passed halfway in 1:04:46 with Betsudai's notorious winds starting to pick up and shift to the head as the runners ran along the seaside section of the course. Mwangi regained contact with the lead group around 22.4 km and the group continued on together, hitting 25 km in 1:16:57, a 15:41 split for the previous 5 km. Clearly impatient with the dropping pace, 4-time Chunchon Marathon winner Elijah Mutai of Kenya began to push, drawing ahead of the pacemakers. After the turnaround point at 25.5 km he dropped a 2:59 km, breaking up the pack. He gradually pulled away and at 30 km when the pacemakers dropped out he had built an 8 second lead over a chase pack led by first-time marathoner and Oita High School graduate Tomoya Adachi of Team Asahi Kasei, reaching 30 km in 1:32:21. Adachi and Ruggero Pertile of Italy were the only runners in the pack showing no sign of struggle. Most members of the pack took a turn leading but only Adachi remained at the front for the duration, drawing strength from the support he received from spectators as a local boy.

From 30-35 km Mutai pulled steadily away, opening as much as a 40 second gap on the rest of the field as the marathon began to take its toll. Domestic invited elites Michitane Noda and Takayuki Ota were the first to go, leaving only domestic individual entrants Adachi, Mwangi, Watanabe, and Masahiko Takeyasu of Team Chudenko pursuing Mutai along with foreign runners Pertile, Rachid Kisri of Morocco, and Scott Westcott of Australia, aided by a moderate tailwind. Pertile was the next to go, followed by Kisri. Westcott and Adachi put on a push around 34 km which left Watanabe and Mwangi drifting behind and Takeyasu struggling to maintain contact.

Although his running continued to look strong, Mutai went through 35 km in 1:48:10, his slowest 5 km split so far in the race. Westcott, Adachi and Takeyasu came through 37 seconds behind. While Takeyasu and Westcott were visibly struggling, Adachi's form and expression had not changed in the slightest, still giving the impression that he was out for a training run. Further back, the three domestic invited elites were not so fortunate. Team Otsuka Seiyaku's Noriyuki Mizuguchi started walking at 32.7 km, dropping out by 33 km after stopping to flex his knees. Ota slowed dramatically and was last seen at jogging pace around the 36 km point. Noda repeatedly stopped to hammer on his right thigh with his fists, each time beginning to run again. Even further back, Team Yasukawa Denki's Tomokazu Sakamoto and Team S&B's Kei Kiniwa came up from solo running purgatory to begin catching the lead pack casualties.

Despite the sizeable lead he had put together, it soon became evident that front runner Mutai might be the lead pack's biggest casualty. Mutai was visibly fading with 5 km to go, his stride shortening even as the pursuing Adachi finally broke free of Westcott and Takeyasu and began to make up ground. Race commentator Shigeru So, whose brother Takeshi coaches Adachi, criticized Adachi, saying that Adachi looked so good that he couldn't be trying hard enough. Mutai ran 3:31 for the 38th km, with Adachi making up over 10 seconds. It was over for Mutai before 39 km as Adachi sped by to take the lead.

Behind Adachi, Mutai continued to plummet as he was overtaken by runner after runner. The biggest surprise was the return of Morocco's Kisri, who had fallen away from the lead pack at 31 km. Kisri put on a devastating final 5 km, catching Westcott to move into 2nd at 40.4 km. He was clearly moving faster than Adachi and for a short while it looked possible that he might overtake the leader, but when Adachi made the last turn leading to the stadium finish it was evident that he was too far away. All that remained was for Adachi to reach his pre-race goal of a 2:11. He just squeezed through, finishing in 2:11:59 to record a strong debut. In addition to the win, Adachi was awarded the Ikenaka Cup for being the top finisher from Oita Prefecture.

Kisri was just over a minute back in 2nd place, while Westcott held on for 3rd. Noda had an impressive comeback, rallying after his difficulties to finish 7th just ahead of come-from-behind runners Kiniwa and Sakamoto. In 10th place was Tokio Miyazaki of Team Toshiba LSI. Not long before the race, Oita-based Toshiba LSI announced that it will no longer be offering financial support to its jitsugyodan team, leading to the team's decision to disband in March. Before the race Miyazaki said, "Betsudai will be my last time to run in this uniform. I want to do my best." While Adachi prevented Miyazaki from reaching his goal of winning the Ikenaka Cup, Miyazaki did reach his other goal of a sub-2:20 to bring a commendable close to his professional running career.

Results
1. Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei): 2:11:59 (debut)
2. Rachid Kisri (Morocco): 2:13:07
3. Scott Westcott (Australia): 2:13:36
4. Masahiko Takeyasu (Team Chudenko): 2:14:18 (debut)
5. Daniel Mwangi (Team JAL Ground Service): 2:14:28
6. Yoichi Watanabe (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki): 2:15:17 (PB)
7. Michitane Noda (Team Kanebo): 2:16:01
8. Kei Kiniwa (Team S&B): 2:16:36
9. Tomokazu Sakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki): 2:17:00
10. Tokio Miyazaki (Team Toshiba LSI): 2:19:36

A Japanese-language report on the race is here.
The IAAF's report is here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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