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Legese and Aga On Top, El Abbassi and Osako on the Sidelines at 2019 Tokyo Marathon

Headwinds in the last 6.5 km and cold rain throughout kept the really fast times from happening as scheduled, but the 2019 Tokyo Marathon still brought plenty of surprises.

#1-ranked Birhanu Legese (Ethiopia) winning the men's race wasn't one of them. The lead pack blasted most of the first half sub-2:04 pace, only breaking up after rounding the 20 km turnaround. Early casualties included last year's 4th-place Gideon Kipketer (Kenya) and Asian record holder El Hassan El Abbassi (Bahrain), but just after the turnaround national record holder Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) and 2018 Berlin Marathon 4th-placer Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu) dropped back, Osako stopping shortly thereafter.

The remaining six split into two trios. In the front group, defending champ Dickson Chumba (Kenya) fell back from Legese and Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA) approaching 30 km before Legese took off after the final pacer said goodbye. On the way down to the 35.8 km turnaround Legese's pace approached Wilson Kipsang's 2:03:58 course record, but after rounding the turnaround into the headwind for the return trip back up to the finish it became unsustainable. Legese faded to win in 2:04:48, not what he'd hoped for but still the second-fastest time ever run in Japan. Karoki was next in a PB 2:06:48, with Chumba hanging on to 3rd in 2:08:44.

In the second group, Seifu Tura (Ethiopia), Simon Kariuki (Kenya/Nihon Yakka Univ.) and Yuki Sato (Nissin Shokuhin) tried to stay together on 2:05 pace, but nearing the 35.8 km turnaround they fell apart, overtaken by a fast-charging quartet of Japanese men from the second group who had gone out at 2:06:30 pace. The debuting Kensuke Horio (Chuo Univ.), coached by 2:08:12 collegiate and debut national marathon record holder Masakazu Fujiwara, ran Sato down and moved up all the way to 5th in 2:10:21. Veteran Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu) closed hard to take the second Japanese spot in 2:10:30, with Takuya Fujikawa (Chugoku Denryoku) next in a PB of 2:10:35.  By clearing 2:11:00 all three qualified for September's MGC Race, Japan's 2020 Olympic trials. Also squeezing in was Daichi Kamino (New Balance) in 2:11:05 to qualify on the two-race sub-2:11 average option after having run 2:10:18 in Tokyo last year.

Just missing out, Ryu Takaku (Yakult) was 5th Japanese in 2:11:49. Just behind him, Kamino's university-era teammate Tadashi Isshiki (GMO) needed to run 2:12:17 to qualify on the two-race option but came up just short in 2:12:21. The other runner in the field with a relatively low bar to clear to qualify for the MGC Race, Asuka Tanaka (Hiramatsu Byoin), was far off his 2:11:47 target, finishing in the mid-2:25 range after losing training to a stress fracture in December. They and others have until the end of April to try one more time, but realistically the chances are that this was his last shot.

Nakamura and Sato, along with Osako the only Japanese runners to go with the front group at sub-2:04 pace in the first half of the race, finished 15th and 16th around 2:15. All three have already qualified for the trials and could afford to take a risky shot this time, but all three paid for that risk pretty heavily. With Yuta Shitara (Honda) a DNS and Osako a DNF this time after both setting national records last year it goes to illustrate how much is at stake in delivering times like what they did last year, especially when you consider that of the eighteen Japanese men who have broken 2:08 only two have ever done it more than once. Nothing lasts forever.

Although one thing that did seem to last forever: Former Hakone Ekiden star and Josai University head coach Jun Hiratsuka (Team RxL), now 50, ran 2:28:18 in the men's race to break the 50+ Japanese national record.

Equally unsurprising with Legese's win was that of compatriot Ruti Aga in the women's race. Aga had predicted a 2:18:30 at the pre-race press conference and forced the pacers and at least six other women in the front group to go for just that, splitting 1:09:45 at halfway. Things fell off a bit in the second half, especially after the 35.8 km turnaround, but when it came time Aga had what she needed to drop the rest of the field. Aga moved up from her runner-up spot last year to score her first win in 2:20:40, not a course record and well off her time goal but as the third-fastest time ever on Japanese soil entirely respectable given the conditions. Helen Tola and Shure Demise were 2nd and 3rd in 2:21:01 and 2:21:05 to make it an Ethiopian sweep of the podium, with Kenyan Florence Kiplagat the top non-Ethiopian at 4th in 2:21:50.

At the pre-race press conference 21-year-old Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) raised some eyebrows by predicteing a 2:21:00 debut, but throughout the race she did what she could to live up to that, going through halfway in 1:10:29 and pushing on as things got rougher. Ichiyama needed a 2:24:00 to make the MGC race, but although she just missed it her 2:24:33 for 7th was still one of the best Japanese debuts on the books, and at age 21 to boot.

#1-ranked Japanese woman Honami Maeda (Tenmaya), one of two in the field already qualified for the trials, was well off her 2:21:00 prediction in 2:31:42 for 12th. Club runner Haruka Yamaguchi (Japan/AC Kita) took 31 seconds off her PB to finish 15th in 2:33:41. A way back from her, Chun-Yu Tsao took three minutes off a Taiwanese national record that has stood for 15 years at 17th in 2:36:14. The other MGC qualifier, 2018 Jakarta Asian Games silver medalist Keiko Nogami (Juhachi Ginko), had hoped to run a 2:25 PB but was only 20th in 2:38:23.

For the Japanese runners, the last main chances to score places at the MGC Race come next weekend at the Nagoya Women's Marathon and Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon. Anyone trying to go the two-race average route to qualification has until the end of April. Will anyone who just missed in Tokyo try one last time in Nagano or overseas somewhere next month? Time will tell.

Tokyo Marathon

Tokyo, 3/3/19
men's top 500
women's top 500

1. Birhanu Legese (Ethiopia) - 2:04:48
2. Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA) - 2:06:48 - PB
3. Dickson Chumba (Kenya) - 2:08:44
4. Simon Kariuki (Kenya/Nihon Yakka Univ.) - 2:09:41 - PB
5. Kensuke Horio (Japan/Chuo Univ.) - 2:10:21 - debut
6. Masato Imai (Japan/Toyota Kyushu) - 2:10:30
7. Takuya Fujikawa (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:10:35 - PB
8. Daichi Kamino (Japan/New Balance) - 2:11:05
9. Ryu Takaku (Japan/Yakult) - 2:11:49
10. Tadashi Isshiki (Japan/GMO) - 2:12:21
11. Shohei Otsuka (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:12:36
12. Ryo Kuchimachi (Japan/Subaru) - 2:13:30 - PB
13. Yuki Munakata (Japan/Kanebo) - 2:13:47 - PB
14. Keita Shitara (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:14:41 - PB
15. Shogo Nakamura (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:14:52
16. Yuki Sato (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:15:07
17. Hiroto Kanamori (Japan/Komori Corp..) - 2:15:37 - PB
18. Toshiki Sadakata (Japan/MHPS) - 2:15:53 - PB
19. Hiroto Kunishi (Japan/Nagoya Univ.) - 2:15:59 - PB
20. Hidenori Nagai (Japan/DeNA) - 2:16:08
21. Yoshiki Koizumi (Japan/Raffine) - 2:16:31
22. Keisuke Tanaka (Fujitsu) - 2:16:39
23. Shuji Yoshikawa (Kyudenko) - 2:17:02 - PB
24. Shohei Kurata (Japan/GMO) - 2:17:05
25. Daiki Taguchi (Japan/Hitachi) - 2:17:17 - PB
116. Jun Hiratsuka (Team RxL) - 2:28:18 - age 50+ NR
DNF - Deme Tadu Abate (Ethiopia)
DNF - El Hassan El Abbassi (Bahrain)
DNF - Jo Fukuda (Japan/Nishitetsu)
DNF - Norbert Kigen (Kenya)
DNF - Gideon Kipketer (Kenya)
DNF - Tsukasa Koyama (Japan/Subaru)
DNF - Saeki Makino (Japan/DNPL)
DNF - Shoya Osaki (Japan/Chudenko)
DNF - Suguru Osako (Japan/Nike Oregon Project)
DNF - Fuminori Shimo (Japan/Komazawa Univ.)
DNF - Seifu Tura (Ethiopia)

1. Ruti Aga (Ethiopia) - 2:20:40
2. Helen Tola (Ethiopia) - 2:21:01
3. Shure Demise (Ethiopia) - 2:21:05
4. Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:21:50
5. Bedatu Hirpa (Ethiopia) - 2:23:43
6. Ababel Yeshaneh (Ethiopia) - 2:24:02
7. Mao Ichiyama (Japan/Wacoal) - 2:24:33 - debut
8. Joan Chelimo Melly (Kenya) - 2:26:24 - debut
9. Rose Chelimo (Bahrain) - 2:30:35
10. Ruth Chebitok (Kenya) - 2:31:19
11. Yebrgual Melese (Ethiopia) - 2:31:40
12. Honami Maeda (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:31:42
13. Hiroko Yoshitomi (Japan/Memolead) - 2:32:30
14. Mao Kiyota (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:33:04
15. Haruka Yamaguchi (Japan/AC Kita) - 2:33:41 - PB
16. Mimi Belete (Bahrain) - 2:35:04
17. Chun-Yu Tsao (Taiwan) - 2:36:14 - NR
18. Yoshiko Sakamoto (Japan/Team FOR) - 2:36:16
19. Shiho Satonaka (Japan/GRLab Kanto) - 2:36:37 - PB
20. Keiko Nogami (Japan/Juhachi Ginko) - 2:38:23
21. Nozomi Kawato (Japan/Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 2:38:43 - PB
22. Shinobu Ayabe (Japan/Dream AC) - 2:40:31 - PB
23. Chiharu Suzuki (Japan/Hitachi) - 2:40:49
24. Risa Suzuki (Japan/SBIRC) - 2:41:15
25. Chiaki Morikawa (Japan/Tokyo Bay RC) - 2:42:42
DNF - Tomomi Sawahata (Sawahatters)
DNF - Yuka Takashima (Shiseido)
DNF - Mayumi Uchiyama (Saitama T&F Assoc.)
DNF - Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL)

photo © 2019 Collin Winter, all rights reserved
text © 2019 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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