It came down to a race between #1-ranked El Mahjoub Dazza (Morocco) and top Japanese man Taku Fujimoto (Toyota) after 30 km, but the Moroccan proved the stronger as he pulled away to win the Fukuoka International Marathon in 2:07:10.
Japanese men had to run under the national record of 2:05:50 to score the last spot on the 2020 Olympic marathon team. Fujimoto, 2:08 man Yuki Sato (Nissin Shokuhin) and ambitious 2:12 guy Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) were the only ones to really give it a go, staying up front in the lead pack with most of the internationals, with Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA) laying down the law at the head of the pacer group. A secondary lead group quickly separated off the back of the lead group, with Japan-based Kenyan Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Track Tokyo), 2:09:52 man Jo Fukuda (Nishitetsu), Keita Shitara (Hitachi Butsuryu) and others cutting back to 2:07 pace. European marathon champ Koen Naert (Belgium) and Pan-Am Games gold medalist Christian Pacheco (Peru) were more conservative, going out with the sub-2:10 pace B-group.
The high pace took its toll up front, with most of the invited internationals falling off and then dropping out to leave just Dazza, Fujimoto, Sato, Ichida and former Takushoku University ekiden captain Workneh Derese (Ethiopia/Hiramatsu Byoin). Ichida, Sato and Derese all fell back on the trip out to the 31.6 km turnaround point, leaving just Dazza and Fujimoto when the pacers stepped off at 30 km. Dazza immediately surged, breaking Fujimoto and running unchallenged for the win in 2:07:10. Fujimoto slowed progressively, almost shuffling down the home straight of the track for 2nd in 2:09:36 after a 1:03:02 first half. Derese dropped Sato, but in the last km he was run down by second group runner Fukuda who took 3rd in 2:10:33 to Derese's 2:10:52 for 4th.
Early caution paid off, as runners from the sub-2:10 third pack took the next four spots led by Natsuki Terada (JR Higashi Nihon), who closed with the fastest split in the field, 6:44, for a 5-minute PB of 2:10:55 and a 5th-place finish. Raymond Kipchumba Choge (Kenya) was the only other athlete from the original front pack to make the top 10, taking 9th in 2:11:38. Taiki Suzuki (Raffine) followed up a solid 3rd-place finish two weeks ago at China's Yiwu International Half Marathon with a 2:12:09 debut for 10th.
Amateur runner Yusuke Tobimatsu (Hioki City Hall), a regular front runner in Fukuoka, survived going with the sub-2:10 this time to take 11th in a major PB of 2:12:44, while Sato faded to 2:14:56 after going through halfway in 1:03:02. Still on sub-2:10 pace at 35 km, Ichida paid heavily for his own 1:03:02 first half as he fell to 29th in 2:19:05. Fan favorite Shitara, twin brother of former national record holder Yuta Shitara (Honda), fell short of his sub-2:10 goal at 14th in 2:14:31 just ahead of Sato. Apart from Dazza and Choge, the only other invited internationals to finish were Naert and Pacheco, Naert finishing 18th in 2:15:51 and Pacheco 40th in 2:21:15.
The Final Challenge series, the three-race chance for men to replace Osako on the 2020 Olympic team, continues in March with the Tokyo Marathon and Lake Biwa Marathon. The dire crash and burn results today showed just how high a bar it will be to pull off, and that whatever else happens there's really only one person who could do it. But with the Valencia Marathon having quickly surpassed Fukuoka's place on the world calendar and the Osaka Marathon putting on heavy domestic pressure, more than ever before today's race seemed like a relic of times gone by. Dazza's winning time was only just over 30 second faster than Osaka winner Asefa Tefera's, and Osaka had a quality women's race and field of over 30,000 on top of that. What is Fukuoka's route forward to stay relevant in a rapidly changing landscape?
73rd Fukuoka International MarathonFukuoka, 12/1/19
1. El Mahjoub Dazza (Morocco) - 2:07:10
2. Taku Fujimoto (Japan/Toyota) - 2:09:36
3. Jo Fukuda (Japan/Nishitetsu) - 2:10:33
4. Workneh Derese (Ethiopia/Hiramatsu Byoin) - 2:10:52 - PB
5. Natsuki Terada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:10:55 - PB
6. Michael Githae (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:10:59
7. Taiga Ito (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:10:59
8. Abdi Hakin Ulad (Denmark) - 2:11:03 - PB
9. Raymond Kipchumba Choge (Kenya) - 2:11:38
10. Taiki Suzuki (Japan/Raffine) - 2:12:09 - debut
11. Yusuke Tobimatsu (Hioki City Hall) - 2:12:44 - PB
14. Keita Shitara (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:14:31
15. Yuki Sato (Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:14:56
18. Koen Naert (Belgium) - 2:15:51
23. Hisanori Kitajima (Yasukawa Denki) - 2:17:10
29. Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) - 2:19:05
40. Christian Pacheco (Peru) - 2:21:15
DNF - Shadrack Kiplagat (Kenya)
DNF - Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea)
DNF - Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Kenya/Track Tokyo)
DNF - Abdi Ibrahim Abdo (Bahrain)
DNF - Tsedat Abeje Ayana (Ethiopia)
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