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Mokgobu Outkicks Sonoda on Track, Yoshitomi Rewrites Women's Course Record at Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon

It took until the last lap of the track to do it, but Desmond Mokgobu had the kick to overcome the relentless Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) and become the first South African winner of the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon since 2006.



Running into a moderate headwind for the part of the race, the pacers took things through 10 km in 30:47, just under 2:10 pace. For the Japanese men in the field that was a critical mark. The first of them across the line would qualify for the MGC Race 2020 Olympic trials, with the next five also up for a spot if they went sub-2:10. Rounding the turnaround the lead pack found itself with a nice tailwind all the way to 35 km, and with the boost the pace quickly shifted to 2:09-flat.

The fastest Japanese man in the field was Sonoda, head tilted and expression dire, his 2:10:40 best one of the highlights of Fukuoka in 2016. With the pace they were going that meant a steady rate of attrition in the lead pack after 20 km, one or two men dropping off every kilometer all the way to the pacers' departure at 30 km. Coming up to the 30 km 2014 winner Abraham Kiplimo (Uganda) and sub-2:10 man Josphat Kiprono (Kenya) moved up from the rear of the pack to the front row in anticipation of the imminent gear change. Sonoda noticed them and grew visibly agitated, having run in the front run all the way to that point. When the pacers stepped off at 30 km he exploded.

Surging hard, Sonoda ran 2:55 for the next km, speeding up almost 10 seconds per km. Mokgobu was the only one to try to go with him, but he was soon over 5 seconds back. The rest of the pack disintegrated as people made their own moves in response, coagulating into small groups working together. Behind Mokgobu Aoyama Gakuin University grad Takuya Fujikawa (Chugoku Denryoku) and 23-year-old local Shohei Otsuka (Kyudenko) anchored onto Kiprono to form the main chase group with Kiplimo and Tsukasa Koyama (Subaru) a short way back. For all the Japanese it was uncharted territory, Koyama with a 2:13 best and Otsuka and Fujikawa in their second marathons after 2:15 and 2:16 debuts at Biwako last year.

Sonoda split 14:56 from 30 to 35 km, his projected finish time nearing 2:08:30 and the 2:08:15 course record held by Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) in reach if he could come close to sustaining that effort for the last 7 km. Mokgobu, himself with only a 2:10:51 best, took his time edging back up to Sonoda, but when he made contact just past 35 km Sonoda had none of it. Now running into a strong headwind Sonoda surged back into the lead, and at least three more times before the final turn into the stadium he did the same, never relenting, never letting Mokgobu hold the lead.

In the last kilometer Mokgobu suddenly looked spent and Sonoda actually opened a few strides on him, but summoning up what he needed the South African waited until both of them hit the track for the final 400 m lap to kick away. Sonoda tried to answer again, but this time he couldn't find the final gear he needed. Mokgobu crossed the line first in 2:09:31, Sonoda right behind in 2:09:34, both beating their bests by over a minute.


Mokgobu became the first South African man since Gert Thys' 2006 victory to win Beppu-Oita, the sixth year in a row that a Kenyan hasn't been in the top position. For his superb effort, a race that showed the best of what Japanese marathoners are about, Sonoda scored his place in the Olympic trials.

Otsuka, who as a local high schooler watched from the roadside the classic 2013 battle between Kawauchi and Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki) and knew at that moment he wanted to become a marathoner, took 5 minutes off last year's debut to take 3rd in 2:10:12, just missing MGC race qualification by 13 seconds. With an option to qualify via a two-race average under 2:11 he only has to run 2:11:47 in his next marathon to make it, but given what he showed today it's safe to say his chances of going much better are good.

All told, 6 of the top 10 ran PBs, with 2 of the others going sub-2:13 in their debuts. Despite the strong headwinds late in the race the overall high level of performance made for one of the best launches to the Japanese men's marathon season in recent years.

The women's race is a relatively recent and still small addition to Beppu-Oita's field. A week after winning the Katsuta Marathon in 2:33:56, 2016 Beppu-Oita champ Hiroko Yoshitomi (Memolead) blasted a solo 2:33:00 to take almost 7 minutes off the course record. In the very early stages Yoshitomi was challenged by the locally-based Yuka Takemoto (Canon AC Kyushu), but with a 1:15:39 first half it wasn't long before Yoshitomi had burned her off to seal the win. Last year's winner Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) was also under the old course record but still finished over 5 minutes out of the top spot. Yoshitomi's season still to come includes April's Boston Marathon and June's Stockholm Marathon.

67th Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon

Oita, 2/4/18
click here for complete results

Men
1. Desmond Mokgobu (South Africa) - 2:09:31 - PB
2. Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) - 2:09:34 - PB
3. Shohei Otsuka (Kyudenko) - 2:10:12 - PB
4. Josphat Kiprono (Kenya) - 2:10:54
5. Tsukasa Koyama (Subaru) - 2:11:20 - PB
6. Takuya Fujikawa (Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:11:59 - PB
7. Ryu Takaku (Yakult) - 2:12:12 - debut
8. Abraham Kiplimo (Uganda) - 2:12:18
9. Ezekiel Cheboitibin (Kenya/Sunbelx) - 2:12:32 - debut
10. Ayumu Sato (MHPS) - 2:12:37 - PB
11. Blazej Brzezinski (Poland) - 2:12:43
12. Norikazu Kato (Yakult) - 2:12:48 - PB
13. Kohei Futaoka (Chudenko) - 2:13:28 - debut
14. Yasuyuki Nakamura (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:45
15. Shota Hattori (Honda) - 2:14:11 - PB
-----
DNF - Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC)

Women
1. Hiroko Yoshitomi (Memolead) - 2:33:00 - CR
2. Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) - 2:38:18
3. Chika Tawara (Team RxL) - 2:42:28
4. Yuka Takemoto (Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:49:54

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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The Kawauchi Counter

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Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
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Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
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