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Hirabayashi Knocks 'em Out in Osaka (updated)

The rain mostly stopped exactly 10 minutes before the start of the Osaka Marathon, and conditions were actually pretty good for most of what ended up a record-breaking race.

Backing off from the organizers planned 3:19/km when the main invited elites told them nobody wanted to go that fast in cold and rain, the women's race was a pack run until the late stages with a group of 7 or 8 stretched out over 5 seconds hitting half in 1:11:38. Shedding one or two at a time as the kilometers went by from there, by 40 km it was down to Ethiopians Waganesh Nekasha and Beyenu Degefa in 2:17:08 with Australian veteran Lisa Weightman 6 seconds back and last year's CR breaker Helen Tola Bekele another 5 seconds behind.

Nekasha had the stronger kick and scored the win in 2:24:20, Degefa losing 17 seconds to finish 2nd in 2:24:37 and both just over a minute of their bests. Weightman followed up her 2:24:18 in Valencia in December with a 2:24:43 for 3rd to solidify her claim to a spot on what would be her fifth Olympic marathon team if not for the opacity of the Australian selection process. Kaede Kawamura took the top Japanese spot at 5th in a solid 2:25:44 debut.

Another Japanese first-timer turned out to be the unexpected star of the men's race. The pace was planned for 2:58/km to help the Japanese men hit the 2:05:50 they needed to get the 3rd spot on the Paris Olympics men's team. The pace trio did a good job of making that happen, hitting halfway in 1:02:46 and 25 km in 1:14:28 with about two dozen in two. But as soon as pacers Hiroto Hayashida and Ayumu Kobayashi stepped off at 25 km the remaining pacer Simon Saidimu slowed 5 seconds/km, forcing Japan's Olympic trials winner Naoki Koyama to take over. Koyama got things back on track and led through 30 km in 1:29:51, right on the cusp of helping another Japanese man join him in Paris. And then, the unexpected.

At the top of the only substantial climb on the course at 32 km, Kiyoto Hirabayashi, a 3rd-year at Koku Gakuin University making his debut, took off. From 30 km to 35 km, the toughest 5 km segment on the course, he clocked 14:37, enough to kill off everybody except Budapest World Championships 5th-placer Stephen Kissa of Uganda, a 2:04:48 runner. And in the middle of throwing that down, he smiled and threw a fist in the air to somebody he knew on the side of the road. Kissa caught back up and they were side-by-side at 40 km, but as the rain started up again Hirabayashi had the guts and the kick to drop him with 800 m to go, winning in 2:06:18 by 4 seconds. Why was it big news?
  1. It was a Japanese collegiate record.
  2. It was a Japanese debut record.
  3. Hirabayashi turned 21 in December.
  4. He was wearing Adidas Takumi Sen 9 instead of Adidas' more marathon-oriented Adios Pro series.
  5. His 2:06:18 was faster than you'd expect from a guy with a 1:01:50 half marathon PB, and his 1:06:26 on the 23.1 km Hakone Ekiden Second Stage in January was equivalent to a 1:00:40 half marathon, which would predict something in the mid-2:07 range.
  6. It was the second elite-level Japanese marathon in a row won by a debuting college student off Hakone training.
  7. This was a 30,000+ big-city marathon.
Kissa was next in 2:06:22. Asked post-race how it had felt to have a 2:04 guy right behind him in the last few km, Hirabayashi said, "It was scary! I was stressed out the whole time. I kept hoping he would take the lead, but when he didn't I told myself I just had to keep doing it myself and pushing the pace. I was surprised everybody disappeared when I made a move, but once I was in that groove I just wanted to keep going. I trained a lot on my own so I was used to it." Hirabayashi's longest race before this had been 23.1 km at Hakone, but, he said post-race, "I was really looking forward into going into new territory. I wasn't afraid of the distance at all."

After Hirabayashi and Kissa pulled away Koyama, 2020 Fukuoka International Marathon winner Yuya Yoshida and Daisuke Doi, all 2:07 runners, worked together to keep it on 2:06 pace. You NEVER see Japanese runners take turns leading, but between 32 and 39 km all three took multiple times up front. It was actually pretty beautiful to watch. And it worked.

With the fastest split in the field after 40 km Koyama held on for 3rd in 2:06:33, a PB by over a minute. This guy ran a PB 2:08:59 at Tokyo in 2022, a PB in Tokyo again last year in 2:08:12, won last July's Gold Coast Marathon in a CR and PB 2:07:40, won October's Olympic trials in 2:08:57 in heavy rain, and now this. He just doesn't miss, and he's still getting better. You can count the number of top Japanese men in history who've been this reliable on one hand. This is the kind of guy Japan has wanted on an Olympic team for decades.

Yoshida broke out of a long slump with a PB 2:06:37 for 4th, Doi running 2:06:54 for 5th, a PB by over a minute. Chinese duo Xiangdong Wu and Guojian Dong ran PBs of 2:08:04 and 2:08:12 for 10th and 14th, Wu getting under the Paris standard of 2:08:10. Another Chinese runner, Peiyu Feng, ran 2:09:40, underlining Chinese men's marathoning's continued rise. Running in Chinese shoes, Lesotho's Tebello Ramakongoana just made the standard too with a 2:08:09 NR for 12th.

Further back in 26th, Mongolian NR holder Ser-Od Bat-Ochir, 42, twice Hirabayashi’s age, went through halfway in the 3rd-fastest half marathon time ever by a Mongolian, 1:02:46, en route to a career 4th-best 2:10:10 for 27th. That was enough for him to overtake top-ranked Mongolian Olonbayar Jamsran, who dropped out after 32 km, in the Paris rankings and keep his dream of becoming the first person ever to run in six Olympic marathons alive. The year may come when Ser-Od isn’t on the starting line of a global championship marathon, but as of today 2024 doesn’t look like it’s going to be the one.

There were a lot of DNFs, the most notable being Tokyo Olympics marathon trials winner Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu). Nakamura has struggled with injury and getting back to form since the Olympics, and in Osaka he had a tough one. Starting out in the B-group at 3:00/km, Nakamura started to fall off pace after only 15 km. After going 16:33 for the 5 km from 25 to 30 km he called it a day, ending any chance of a last-minute comeback to knock his Tokyo teammate Suguru Osako off the Paris team. The third member of the Tokyo Olympic squad, Yuma Hattori (Toyota) will get his chance next weekend at the Tokyo Marathon, having spent weeks training in Kenya in prep for his own long shot comeback.

2024 Osaka Marathon

Osaka, Feb. 25, 2024

1. Waganesh Nekasha (Ethiopia) - 2:24:20
2. Beyenu Degefa (Ethiopia) - 2:24:37
3. Lisa Weightman (Australia) - 2:24:43
4. Helen Tola Bekele (Ethiopia) - 2:25:25
5. Kaede Kawamura (Japan/Iwatani Sangyo) - 2:25:44 - debut
6. Fancy Chemutai (Kenya) - 2:28:11
7. Misaki Ichida (Japan/Edion) - 2:30:34
8. Tara Palm (Australia) - 2:32:25 - PB
9. Asuka Yamamoto (Japan/Univ. Ent.) - 2:34:36
10. Seika Ogata (Japan/Uniqlo) - 2:35:12 - debut
11. Gemma Maini (Australia) - 2:38:42
12. Yoshimi Tanaka (Japan/Hiratsuka T&F Assoc.) - 2:42:29 - PB
13. Hailey Bowes (U.S.A.) - 2:43:43
14. Simone McInnes (Australia) - 2:44:16
15. Tomoka Horioka (Japan/Bee Sports) - 2:48:13
DNF - Viola Kibiwott Jelagat (Kenya)
DNF - Ellie Pashley (Australia)

1. Kiyoto Hirabayashi (Japan/Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 2:06:18 - debut NR, univ. NR
2. Stephen Kissa (Uganda) - 2:06:22
3. Naoki Koyama (Japan/Honda) - 2:06:33 - PB
4. Yuya Yoshida (Japan/GMO) - 2:06:37 - PB
5. Daisuke Doi (Japan/Kurosaki Harima) - 2:06:54 - PB
6. Tatsuya Maruyama (Japan/Toyota) - 2:07:52
7. Kemal Husen (Ethiopia) - 2:08:00
8. Kipkemoi Kiprono (Kenya) - 2:08:02
9. Mizuki Higashi (Japan/Aisan Kogyo) - 2:08:03 - PB
10. Xiangdong Wu (China) - 2:08:04 - PB
11. Shohei Otsuka (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:08:05
12. Tebello Ramakongoana (Lesotho) - 2:08:09 - NR
13. Tsubasa Ichiyama (Japan/Sunbelx) - 2:08:11
14. Guojian Dong (China) - 2:08:12 - PB
15. Kento Kikutani (Japan/Toyota Boshoku) - 2:08:33
16. Yuki Takei (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:08:44 - PB
17. Ken Nakayama (Japan/Honda) - 2:08:52 - PB
18. Kenta Murayama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:00
19. Shoma Hosoya (Japan/Logisteed) - 2:09:05 - PB
20. Hidekazu Hijikata (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:10
21. Masashi Nonaka (Japan/Toyota) - 2:09:11 - PB
22. Hideyuki Tanaka (Japan/Toyota) - 2:09:27 - PB
23. Patrick Mathenge Wambui (Kenya/NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:09:29 - PB
24. Madoka Tanihara (Japan/Osaka Police) - 2:09:39
25. Peiyu Feng (China) - 2:09:40
26. Kento Nishi (Japan/Osaka Gas) - 2:09:56
27. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/Shin Nihon Jusetsu) - 2:10:10
28. Junnosuke Matsuo (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:10:29
29. Daisuke Hosomori (Japan/YKK) - 2:10:40
30. Kosei Machida (Japan/Chuo Hatsujo) - 2:10:41 - debut
DNF - Iliass Aouani (Italy)
DNF - Olonbayar Jamsran (Mongolia)
DNF - Daiji Kawai (Japan/Toenec)
DNF - Adeladlew Mamo (Ethiopia)
DNF - Shogo Nakamura (Japan/Fujitsu)
DNF - Takahiro Nakamura (Japan/Kyocera Kagoshima)
DNF - Tatsuya Oike (Japan/Toyota Boshoku)
DNF - Chihiro Ono (Japan/GMO)
DNF - Vincent Raimoi (Kenya/Suzuki)
DNF - Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Japan/Asahi Kasei)

photos © 2024 Victah Sailer/Photo Run, all rights reserved
text © 2024 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Anonymous said…
Can you please post a link to the full race video? I cannot find it on Youtube.

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