The 48th annual Sapporo Half Marathon, which doubles as the selection race for the 14th IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Edmonton, Canada, will be held in Sapporo, Japan on Sunday 3 July.
The women’s field is loaded. In addition to the 2001 World Marathon champion, Lidia Simon (ROM), the race organizer has invited the top four finishers in the 2003 World Championships Marathon – Catherine Ndereba (KEN), and locals Mizuki Noguchi, Masako Chiba and Naoko Sakamoto. In 2004, Noguchi won the Olympic Marathon gold medal, while Ndereba won the silver medal. Furthermore, Sakamoto was seventh at the marathon in Athens.
Four of the five aforementioned runners have run in the Sapporo Half Marathon before. Simon won the 2001 race in 1:09:46, a year when Noguchi was second in 1:09:51. Simon also won in 1998 with 1:08:51. Although she was only fifth last year, Ndereba is a two-time defending champion, having won in 2003 with 1:08:23 and 2002 with 1:08:57. Ndereba’s time from 2003, 1:08:23 is the course record. In 2002, Sakamoto finished third in 1:09:55. More recently Ndereba won the Boston Marathon in 2:25:13, while Simon was fifth in the Osaka Ladies Marathon in 2:27:01.
For Olympic Champion Noguchi, Sapporo will be her first serious road race since the Olympic marathon. Noguchi, who won the 10,000m in 31:44.29 in May, will decide which autumn marathon she most likely will run after evaluating her performance at the Sapporo Half Marathon.
Although Chiba has not run in Sapporo, she is no stranger to the city of Sapporo, for Chiba won the 2004 and 2001 Hokkaido Marathon in Sapporo. As for personal bests, Chiba is the fastest half marathon runner in the field with 1:06:43, recorded in the 1997 Tokyo Half Marathon (33m elevation loss). Noguchi, Ndereba and Simon are the next three fastest runners; their half marathon personal bests are 1:07:47 in the 2004 Miyazaki half Marathon, 1:07:54 in the 2001 Den Half Marathon, and 1:08:34 in the 2000 Tokyo Half marathon (downhill), respectively for Noguchi, Ndereba and Simon.
Two marathon runners, who will be running the World Championships in Helsinki, are expected to compete in Sapporo. They are Harumi Hiroyama and Megumi Oshima. Earlier this year, Hiroyama was second to Simon in Miyazaki Half Marathon with 1:10:02. She was also third in the Osaka Ladies Marathon with 2:25:56, while Oshima was second in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon with 2:24:25.
Furthermore, the race includes the defending champion Hiromi Ominami, who recorded 1:08:45 last year, and her twin sister Takami Ominami. Other top women’s runners expected in Sapporo are Yasuko Hashimoto, second in Marugame half marathon in 1:09:34, Fumi Murata, 4th in All JPN Corporate half marathon championships in 1:10:35, and Miki Oyama, 4th in Osaka Ladies Marathon in 2:26:55. They all previously ran in the Sapporo half marathon. Oyama was third last year with 1:09:54, while Murata was fifth with 1:10:48 in the same year and Hashimoto was fourth with 1:10:48 in 2003. Hashimoto was also seventh in 2004.
Turning the attention to the men’s race, the most famous invited runner is Vanderlei de Lima, the Athens Olympic Marathon bronze medalist from Brazil. “His goal in Sapporo is to run 1:02,” said Ricardo D’Angelo, Lima’s coach. “If he could do that, it is a good indication that his training for Helsinki is on course. If not, I must modify his training programme.”
De Lima, however, is not the only Olympic medalist in the race. Eric Wainaina, two-time medalist (bronze in Atlanta, silver in Sydney) is also in the race. Wainaina runs well in the heat, as attested by his winning performance in the 2003 Hokkaido Marathon in August. He also won the 1998 Sapporo race with 1:02:56 and has a marathon best of 2:08:43, recorded in 2002 Tokyo Marathon. Girma Assefa and Simon Maina, who finished second (1:01:34) and third (1:01:36) respectively in the 2004 Sapporo Half Marathon are back again and will attempt to improve their already respectable finishing places from last year.
Other top men’s runners expected in Sapporo are Toshinari Suwa, sixth in the Olympic marathon in Athens, and Tsuyoshi Ogata, who will be running the World Championships marathon in Helsinki. Suwa has a marathon best of 2:07:55 from 2003 Fukuoka Marathon, while Ogata’s marathon best is 2:08:37, also from the 2003 Fukuoka Marathon. Both Ogata and Suwa are no stranger to Sapporo. While Ogata was sixth in 1:01:59 in 2004 and fourth in 1:02:15 in 2003, Suwa was seventh with 1:03:00 in 2003. More recently, Ogata won the Fukuoka Marathon in December, while Suwa was seventh in London Marathon in 2:10:23.
Atsushi Fujita, a former national marathon record holder at 2:06:51 from 2000, is widely considered to be a huge talent. However, unfortunately, his career has been troubled with injury problems. Fujita, one of the most dedicated distance runner in Japan, was eighth (1:02:12) and fifth (1:02:33) in the 2004 and 2003 Sapporo Half Marathons respectively.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
List of Invited Runners:
Vanderlei de Lima (BRA)
Girma Assefa (ETH)
Simon Maina (KEN)
Eric Wainaina (KEN)
Catherine Ndereba (KEN)
Lidia Simon (ROM)