Defending Champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya won the Sapporo Half Marathon with a new course record of 1:08:23, which improved her own 1:08:57 set last year in the rain.
“The race was easier than last year,” said the winner after the race which she completely dominated after breaking away at 10Km and after which she never looked back.
Two major contenders were missing from the race. Japan's Rie Matsuoka and Naoko Sakamoto, already selected for the Paris World Championships marathon team, were planning to run the Sapporo as a tune-up race for Paris. Unfortunately, they withdrew from the race in the last minute citing injury. Their participation in the Paris race may now be in jeopardy.
As happened last year Mikie Takanaka - “my plan was to push the race from the start,” - took the lead from the gun, so that by 5Km (15:55) only six runners - Mikie Takanaka, Yumiko Hara, Catherine Ndereba, Ruth Wanjiru, Hisae Yoshimatsu, and Reiko Tosa - were left in the front.
Takanaka continued to push the pace and successfully broke away from the pack at one point (around 8Km). However, unlike last year when she led until 18Km, her lead did not last very long, as Ndereba caught up with Takanaka by 10Km (32:11) and was soon pulling away from Mikie Takanaka, last year’s runner up, and 5Km later at 15Km (48:22), Ndereba was completely alone.
At this point, Takanaka was 30 seconds behind the former world marathon record holder, while Yumiko Hara was in the third place another 10 seconds behind.
However, Hara was slowly gaining ground on Takanaka, and by 16.7Km, she caught up and broke away from a faltering Takanaka to move into second. With every step Ndereba was moving away from the competition and by 20 Km (1:04:56) she was a minute and eight seconds ahead of Hara.
Ndereba, who is reported to be running the marathon in the World Championships in Paris, won today's race easily, one minute and 14 seconds ahead of the second placed Hara.
While Ndereba seems ready for Paris, the defending champion Lidia Simon of Romania may not be. She was 35 seconds behind the leaders by 5Km and was steadily losing ground as the race progressed. Simon eventually finished 13th in 1:13:39, over five minutes behind Ndereba.
On the men’s side John Kanyi of Kenya, who said, “I was confident to win,” also won for a second time. Kanyi, who lives in Japan and runs for Japanese corporation JFE, won in 1999 with 1:01:32, which was the course record then. His course record, however, was broken by Samuel Kabiru last year, when Kabiru ran 1:01:11.
The men’s race saw a really battle with over 30 runners (including three runners, Shigeru Aburaya, Atsushi Sato and Tsuyoshi Ogata, who are selected by Japan to run the marathon in Paris) together at 5Km (14:46). This huge group had reduced marginally to approximately 25 runners by 10Km (29:38).
With Kanyi always pushing the pace the real racing started after 10Km , when the lead pack disintegrated due to 14:30 5Km split from 10Km to 15Km. Around 12.5Km, Shigeru Aburaya who was fifth in the 2001 World Championships marathon, and Atsushi Fujita, a former national marathon record holder, started to lose contact with the leaders. After the race, Fujita cited lower back problem as the reason why he fell behind early.
By 15Km (44:08), only four runners – John Kanyi, Laban Kagika, Atsushi Sato and Tsuyoshi Ogata – were left in the lead pack. Kanyi continued to push the pace and around 19Km, the two Japanese – Ogata and Sato fell behind two Kenyans. Another 500m later, Kagika too could not keep up with Kanyi’s pace, and so Kanyi was alone.
At 20Km, Kanyi led Kagika by six seconds, while Sato and Ogata were a further three and six seconds behind, respectively. However, they were not finished yet. Sato a tenacious runner caught and passed Kagika for a moment around 20.2Km. It was a short lived second place, however, as Kagika soon took second once more.
Kanyi won the race in 1:02:08, while Kagika was five seconds back.
After the race Sato who barely held off his team-mate Ogata at the finish said, “I could not push any harder on the final hill to the stadium. This is something to think about between now and Paris.”
So while two members of Japan's women’s marathon team had bad news, two runners on the men’s marathon team – Sato and Ogata - have shown that they are on schedule for Paris.
Ken Nakamura and Akihiro Onishi for the IAAF
1) John Kanyi (KEN) 1:02:08
2) Laban Kagika (KEN) 1:02:13
3) Atsushi Sato 1:02:15
4) Tsuyoshi Ogata 1:02:15
5) Atsushi Fujita 1:02:34
6) Demise Girma (ETH) 1:02:56
7) Toshinari Suwa 1:03:00
8) Daniel Mwangi (KEN) 1:03:16
9) Wataru Okutani 1:03:32
10) Eric Wainaina (KEN) 1:03:33
14) Shigeru Aburaya 1:03:56
25) Daniel Njenga (KEN) 1:04:47
1) Catherine Ndereba (KEN) 1:08:23 New Course Record
2) Yumiko Hara 1:09:37
3) Mikie Takanaka 1:10:32
4) Yasuko Hashimoto 1:10:48
4) Reiko Tosa 1:11:15
6) Risa Hagiwara 1:11:55
7) Fumi Murata 1:12:25
8) Eri Hayakawa 1:12:40
9) Asami Obi 1:13:09
10) Miki Ohira 1:13:16
13) Lidia Simon 1:13:39
5Km 14:46 David Kariuki
10Km 29:38 (14:52) Shigeru Aburaya
15Km 44:08 (14:30) John Kanyi,
20Km 58:58 (14:50) John Kanyi
Finish 1:02:08 (3:10) John Kanyi
5Km 15:55 Mikie Takanaka
10Km 32:11 (16:16) Catherine Ndereba
15Km 48:22 (16:11) Catherine Ndereba
20Km 1:04:56 (16:34) Catherine Ndereba
Finish 1:08:23 (3:27) Catherine Ndereba