The Fukuoka International Marathon is the traditional major player on Japan's December marathon calendar, but resting on traditional can only last so long. The Osaka Marathon, one of the world's ten largest mass-participation marathons, this year got into the elite game in a big way with its best-ever fields and a race date that put it head-to-head with Fukuoka.
Bidding to get into the IAAF/World Athletics road race label game, Osaka brought in enough quality internationals to keep its mostly amateur domestic field off the eight-deep podium. Aberu Mekuria (Ethiopia) dominated the women's race with a 2:26:29 course record, more than two minutes ahead of Kenyan mercenary runner-up Monica Jepkoech (Bahrain). 2017 Osaka winner Yumiko Kinoshita (Japan) ran the second-fastest time of her career, 2:35:16, but finished off the podium in 9th.
The men's race must have had the Fukuoka organizers sweating, as Ethiopian Asefa Tefera dropped a 2:07:47 course record for the win, like Mekuria winning by about two minutes. Tefera's time ended up being 37 seconds slower than Fukuoka winner El Mahjoub Dazza's, but while only one other man went sub-2:10 in Fukuoka, here three more did, Moroccans Mohamed El Aaraby and Mohamed Ziani, and Ethiopian Husen Muhammed Amin Esmael.
Osaka flexing its muscle to get into the elite end of Japanese marathoning seems like a natural move given the event's position as one of the world's biggest marathons. But where does it leave the other traditional elite Japanese races? If Osaka stays on this date it's hard to see it not hitting Fukuoka pretty hard. With a high-level women's race it's also hard not to see that impacting January's Osaka International Women's Marathon. And what about next weekend's Saitama International Marathon, where only one semi-elite Japanese woman is set to start?
The logical sequence of events would be to take the elite women's race out of Saitama, leaving it as a nice amateur mass-participation race, and put the elite race back in Tokyo where it belongs. September's MGC Race showed that Japan's rival TV broadcasters can cooperate to cover both the women's and men's races in a single marathon. Do the same for Tokyo and give its women's race the coverage it deserves and has never gotten. With December freed up, take the Osaka International Women's Marathon race and stage it as part of the Osaka Marathon. Move Fukuoka to Osaka International's date at the end of January, eliminating the problem with Japanese corporate league men not being able to run Fukuoka because of the New Year Ekiden four weeks later. Voila, all domestic calendar problems solved. All that remains then is how to keep them relevant against Valencia, Dubai, and the other races coming up all around.
Osaka MarathonOsaka, 12/1/19
1. Aberu Mekuria (Ethiopia) - 2:26:29 - CR
2. Monica Jepkoech (Bahrain) - 2:28:37
3. Soud Kanbouchia (Morocco) - 2:28:56
4. Veronica Nyaruai (Kenya) - 2:29:03
5. Maryna Damantsevich (Belarus) - 2:31:58
6. Clementine Mukandanga (Rwanda) - 2:32:45
7. Joan Jepchirchir (Kenya) - 2:32:59
8. Olha Kotovska (Ukraine) - 2:33:55
9. Yumiko Kinoshita (Japan) - 2:35:16
10. Mitsuko Ino (Japan) - 2:39:04
1. Asefa Tefera (Ethiopia) - 2:07:47 - CR
2. Mohamed El Aaraby (Morocco) - 2:09:31
3. Mohamed Ziani (Morocco) - 2:09:44
4. Husen Muhammed Amin Esmael (Ethiopia) - 2:09:53
5. Duncan Maiyo (Kenya) - 2:11:43
6 Ketema Bekele Negasa (Ethiopia) - 2:12:09
7. Berhane Tsegay Tekle (Eritrea) - 2:12:44
8. Gizachew Hailu (Ethiopia) - 2:14:06
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