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Sutume Asefa Kebede and Benson Kipruto Run Fastest-Ever Marathons in Japan to Win in Tokyo

Sutume Asefa Kebede and Benson Kipruto made history at the Tokyo Marathon with the fastest-ever women's and men's marathon times ever run on Japanese soil.

In some ways both races played out similarly. Tucked in with a pack of amateur Japanese men, Sutume, 2023 Tokyo winner Rosemary Wanjiru, 2023 Budapest World Championships gold medalist Amane Beriso Shankule and double Olympic gold medalist Sifan Hassan ran together in the early going before Hassan started to lose a few seconds before 20 km. By 30 km Hassan was out of the picture, and the steady 5 km splits hovering around 16:00 over the second half ground Amane down until she lost touch near the 37 km turnaround.

Sutume and Wanjiru stayed together until the 40 km drink table, where Sutume timed her surge just as Wanjiru went for her bottle and opened the lead that gave her the win. With a 30-second negative split Sutume went 7 seconds under the Tokyo course record and Japanese all-comers record with a 2:15:55 PB for the win. Wanjiru also scored a PB with a 2:16:14 for 2nd and looked pretty happy about it. Amane wasn't really that far back in 3rd in 2:16:58, and despite having gotten dropped early Hassan held on for 5th in 2:18:05, 28 seconds faster than her winning time in London last year.

The men's race went out faster, on world record pace through 15 km, with only Boston and Chicago winner Benson Kipruto, 2:03:50 guy Timonty Kiplagat, last fall's Berlin runner-up Vincent Kipkeoi Ngetich and double Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge able to roll with it. Kipchoge lost touch before 20 km, and in his case was out of the picture before 25 km.

And from there it was a fascinating and complex three-way race, Kiplagat taking the lead, Ngetich repeatedly dropping off, coming back, he and Kipruto regaining contact with Kiplagat, then losing it. None of them had ever run anywhere near the pace it went out at for Kipchoge's benefit, and his early drop-off and that of the pacers meant just about anything could happen, including all three of them blowing up. But they didn't.

Ngetich lost touch for the last time on the way down to the 37 km turnaround, but held on for 3rd in 2:04:18 and like Wanjiru looked pretty happy about it. Kiplagat also lost touch near the turnaround, but was all smiles at the finish line as he took 2nd in a big PB of 2:02:55. And Kipruto, the younger brother of two-time Tokyo Marathon winner Dickson Chumba, rocked on to add the Tokyo title to his 2021 Boston and 2022 Chicago wins with a massive 2:02:16 CR, Japanese all-comers record and PB. Burned by the early pace set for his benefit, Kipchoge faded to 10th in 2:06:50.

Tokyo organizers and broadcaster Nippon TV had hyped this year's race with the theme "Tokyo to Paris," but things ended up not being that simple. Kipchoge was the #1-ranked Kenyan on World Athletics's Road to Paris rankings before Tokyo, but he was beaten by the #3, #4 and #5, #11 and #29 Kenyans. That's got to make Athletics Kenya's calculus a little more complex. On his Olympic chances Kipruto said, "I don't know what will happen, and I just have to wait and see. But if I am chosen, I want to run in Paris." Women's winner Sutume said almost the same thing. For her part Hassan described her run as "a learning experience" post-race, and said she will see how track season goes before making any final decision about whether she'll run the Olympic marathon.

Japanese men needed to run at least 2:05:50 to steal the third spot on the Paris team from Olympic trials 3rd-placer Suguru Osako, but despite a solid effort that saw three more Japanese men go under 2:07 and a great new 2:06:31 PB from Yusuke Nishiyama, Japan's top finisher at the 2022 Oregon World Championships, "It just wasn't enough," as Nishiyama told JRN post-race. Bursting into tears at the finish line, Nishiyama managed that despite getting caught up in a fall in the crowded pack that took down at least four athletes including Haimro Alame, who needed a 2:05:52 to make the Israeli team in Paris. Alame hit his head on the pavement hard enough to need to go to a hospital for examination post-race, but like Nishiyama he still managed to finish just short of the mark in 2:06:27.

American Betsy Saina's Olympic marathon hopes ended with a DNF at last month's U.S. Olympic Trials, but with a quick turnaround she ran Tokyo and got the consolation prize of a fantastic 2:19:17 PB for 5th. Japanese 10000 m and half marathon NR holder Hitomi Niiya skipped trying to make the Paris team to attempt to get the marathon NR. But for the second time in a row, despite billing it as an NR attempt to the media she didn't actually go out on NR pace, 16:37 at 5 km and finishing in only 2:21:50 for 6th. Men's NR holder Kengo Suzuki ran 2:11:19 for 28th, and after training in Kenya for most of this year Tokyo Olympics marathon team member Yuma Hattori fell far short of making the return trip to Paris with a 2:14:03 for 36th. Ichitaka Yamashita, whose 2:05:51 in Tokyo last year the Japanese men needed to beat, ran 2:17:26 for 46th.

But despite everything else, the "Tokyo to Paris" hype did come true for exactly one runner in the field. Running together with debuting Canadian half marathon NR holder Andrea Seccafien, Mongolian half marathon NR holder Khishigsaikhan Galbadrakh needed to hit the 2:26:50 standard to make it to her first Olympics. Seccafien lost touch just before 20 km and dropped out shortly afterward, but Khishigsaikhan went through halfway in 1:13:21 and held steady over the second half, finishing strong with a 10-second negative split 2:26:32 for 8th. A PB by over 2 minutes, her time not only cleared the standard but broke the Mongolian NR by 1:31. Post-race she and her coach, men's marathon NR holder Ser-Od Bat-Ochir, were thrilled at the possibility that they'll be in Paris together as teammates.

In the wheelchair races, men's NR holder Tomoki Suzuki had a blowout win, going almost a minute and a half faster than in his 2nd-place finish last year for first in 1:23:05. Tokyo Paralympics bronze medalist Daniel Romanchuk beat Suzuki to the 10 km mark but faded after that, finishing 2nd in 1:28:33. The women's race was another trio battle, with CR holder Manuel Schar winning for the second year in a row in 1:40:10 over the up-and-coming Eden Rainbow-Cooper, 2nd in 1:40:28. Susannah Scaroni was 3rd in 1:41:35.

There were a few organizational problems this year. In the wheelchair race, some kind of marshaling error resulted in three athletes, Jenna Fesemeyer, Christie Dawes, and one male, going off-course and being disqualified. Drink tables in the marathon were adequate in number and spacing, but the tables themselves were far too short and had the bottles too close together. As a result, at least four times on the TV broadcast athletes in the lead pack, once even a pacer, stopped dead and spent time searching through the table for their own bottle.

Pacing assignments in the men's race also drew complaints given the massive gap between the 2:01-flat pace plan for Kipchoge and the mid-2:05 pacing for Japanese men, something that left a group of at least five Africans around the 2:04 level stuck in the middle on their own. "I understand that Kipchoge gets what he wants," one agent told JRN, "but all this did was leave a lot of the field on their own and make them angry. It's not the way a major should be operating."

Tokyo Marathon

Tokyo, 3 Mar. 2024

Wheelchair Women
1. Manuel Schar (Switzerland) - 1:40:10
2. Eden Rainbow-Cooper (Great Britain) - 1:40:28 
3. Susannah Scaroni (U.S.A.) - 1:41:35
4. Madison De Rozario (Australia) - 1:44:19
5. Aline dos Santos Rocha (Brazil) - 1:44:21

Wheelchair Men
1. Tomoki Suzuki (Japan) - 1:23:05
2. Daniel Romanchuk (U.S.A.) - 1:28:33
3. Sho Watanabe (Japan) - 1:31:03
4. Ryota Yoshida (Japan) - 1:31:05
5. Kota Hokinoue (Japan) - 1:31:06

1. Sutume Asefa Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:15:55 - ACR, PB
2. Rosemary Wanjiru (Kenya) - 2:16:14 - PB
3. Amane Beriso Shankule (Ethiopia) - 2:16:58
4. Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) - 2:18:05
5. Betsy Saina (U.S.A.) - 2:19:17 - PB
6. Hitomi Niiya (Japan) - 2:21:50
7. Meseret Abebayahau (Ethiopia) - 2:23:08
8. Khishigsaikhan Galbadrakh (Mongolia) - 2:26:32 - NR
9. Tigist Abayechew (Ethiopia) - 2:28:53
10. Ayumi Morita (Japan) - 2:31:38 - PB
11. Magdalena Shauri (Tanzania) - 2:32:58
12. Kasumi Nishihara (Japan) - 2:35:01 - PB
13. Misato Horie (Japan) - 2:35:09
14. Kaho Nishizawa (Japan) - 2:36:11 - debut
15. Shiho Kaneshige (Japan) - 2:37:27
16. Tennile Ellis (Australia) - 2:39:40
17. Meari Obuchi (Japan) - 2:39:48 - PB
18. Yukie Matsumura (Japan) - 2:40:42
19. Haruna Takano (Japan) - 2:41:08 - PB
20. Eri Suzuki (Japan) - 2:41:42 - PB
21. Kana Masuda (Japan) - 2:42:23 - PB
22. Chiaki Morikawa (Japan) - 2:43:04
23. Chika Tawara (Japan) - 2:43:14
24. Meaghan Strum (Canada) - 2:43:25 - PB
25. Amanda Chang (U.S.A.) - 2:43:41
DNF - Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (Israel)
DNF - Buzunesh Getachew (Ethiopia)
DNF - Andrea Seccafien (Canada)

1. Benson Kipruto (Kenya) - 2:02:16 - ACR, PB
2. Timothy Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:02:55 - PB
3. Vincent Kipkemoi Ngetich (Kenya) - 2:04:18
4. Hailemaryam Kiros (Ethiopia) - 2:05:43
5. Tsegaye Getachew (Ethiopia) - 2:06:25
6. Bethwel Kibet (Kenya) - 2:06:26
7. Haimro Alame (Israel) - 2:06:27
8. Simon Kariuki (Kenya) - 2:06:29 - PB
9. Yusuke Nishiyama (Japan) - 2:06:31 - PB
10. Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) - 2:06:50
11. Kenya Sonota (Japan) - 2:06:54
12. Kyohei Hosoya (Japan) - 2:06:55
13. Shungo Yokota (Japan) - 2:07:25 - PB
14. Shin Kimura (Japan) - 2:07:34
15. Victor Kiplangat (Uganda) - 2:07:44
16. Bedan Karoki (Kenya) - 2:07:59
17. Yuhei Urano (Japan) - 2:08:21
18. Kenji Yamamoto (Japan) - 2:08:33 - PB
19. Benard Kimeli (Kenya) - 2:08:34 - PB
20. Toshiki Sadakata (Japan) - 2:09:15
21. Yusuke Tamura (Japan) - 2:09:21 - debut
22. Takashi Ichida (Japan) - 2:10:12
23. Kazuya Nishiyama (Japan) - 2:10:29
24. Hiroshi Ichida (Japan) - 2:10:30 - PB
25. Hiromasa Kumahashi (Japan) - 2:10:38 - PB
26. Yugo Kashiwa (Japan) - 2:10:44
27. Shunya Kikuchi (Japan) - 2:10:50
28. Kengo Suzuki (Japan) - 2:11:19
29. Koki Takada (Japan) - 2:11:38
30. Michael Githae (Kenya) - 2:12:03
31. Ryo Matsumoto (Japan) - 2:12:06
32. Shuho Dairokuno (Japan) - 2:12:09
33. Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Kenya) - 2:12:22 - PB
34. Yusuke Ogura (Japan) - 2:12:48
35. Kiyoshi Koga (Japan) - 2:13:35
36. Yuma Hattori (Japan) - 2:14:03
37. Jo Fukuda (Japan) - 2:14:44
38. Masaki Sakuda (Japan) - 2:15:00
39. Kinya Hashira (Japan) - 2:15:38 - PB
40. Yuji Shibukawa (Japan) - 2:15:40 - PB
41. Shusei Ohashi (Japan) - 2:15:47
42. Keisuke Hayashi (Japan) - 2:15:48
43. Qianyu Cheng (China) - 2:15:54 - PB
44. Tatsuro Oyazaki (Japan) - 2:15:59 - PB
45. Haruka Kawamura (Japan) - 2:16:18
46. Ichitaka Yamashita (Japan) - 2:17:26
47. Masato Tanaka (Japan) - 2:17:28 - debut
48. Tomohiro Kaijo (Japan) - 2:17:31
49. Yuki Yamada (Japan) - 2:17:39
50. Yudai Fukuda (Japan) - 2:17:49
DNF - Bazezew Asmare (Ethiopia)
DNF - Andualem Belay (Ethiopia)
DNF - Chalu Deso Gelmiso (Ethiopia)

text and photos © 2024 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Stefan said…
Unpredictable race this year and so many points of interest.
1. I've not seen so much confusion and mayhem at drink tables for a long time!
2. Hitomi Niiya surprisingly did not wear the latest and greatest Adidas EVO shoes. At 36 years old, I think the marathon National record is near impossible now. By the way, I saw a Youtuber running in her pack so I expect to see a lot of good race footage once it is uploaded.
3. Kengo Suzuki couldn't recapture his outstanding 2021-2 form. I was hoping he would but when you've been sidelined for so long and not raced the chances are slim. (I'm hoping Seira Fuwa can beat these odds in the next few months).
4. Sifan Hassan, by her lofty standards, ran poorly but still ran under the Japanese National Record! I think that is amazing.
5. Rosemary Wanjiru was impressive to set a PB. Very pleased for her.
6. Suguru Osako, proved me wrong and made the right call by selecting the Boston Marathon. Maybe he knew just how hard it was to get that 2:05:50 time.
7. Congrats to Khishigsaikhan Galbadrakh on making the Mongolian team and breaking their National record in the process.
8. Great event, great TV coverage (no doubt your influence helped) and well organized as usual. Just not sure what was happening at the drink stations this year?
Next stop, next Sunday Nagoya to see if Ayuko Suzuki or someone else can perform a mini miracle and oust Honami Maeda from the Olympic team and claim the National Record at the same time.
Mark said…
No mention of Mariko Yugeta’s 3:01? That’s a new world record for 65-69 women isn’t it? What a beast!

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