Twotime World champion Jaoud Gharib of Morocco and Ethiopia’s Tekeste Kebede will headline the field at Sunday’s (5) 64th annual Fukuoka International Marathon.
Held as usual on the first Sunday of December, this IAAF Silver Label Road Race is the most prestigious as well as the fastest Marathon in Japan. The course record of 2:05:18, set last year by Tsegaye Kebede, is by far the fastest among the Japanese Marathons. The average of top ten performances in Fukuoka is 2:06:47, again by far the fastest among Japanese Marathons.
The top invited runner in the field is Gharib, who followed up his back-to-back World titles in 2003 and 2005 with the 2008 Olympic silver medal in Beijing. This will be his second appearance in Fukuoka after his 2006 appearance where he was third behind Haile Gebrselassie and Dmytro Baranovskyy clocking 2:07:19. Having run a personal best of 2:05:27 at the 2009 London Marathon, Gharib is the fastest 36-year-old Marathon runner in history and the oldest to ever to crack the distance’s 2:06 barrier. A year later, Gharib ran 2:06:55 to become the fastest 37-year-old as well as the oldest sub-2:07 runner in history. Now at 38, his age group target is Carlos Lopes’ former World record of 2:07:12. Gharib’s ambitions are higher as he hopes to run around 2:06 and win on Sunday.
His main challenger is expected to be Tekeste Kebede, who was second in Fukuoka last year and at Boston this year. With his 2:07:52 performance in Fukuoka last year he cracked the 2:08 barrier for the first time taking nearly two minutes from his previous best set in Boston in 2009. Then in Boston earlier this year, he improved by nearly 30 seconds to 2:07:23. He may be on a roll as he has improved his personal best in four straight races. Will Sunday be the fifth straight?
It will be hard to count out Baranovskyy, the 2005 Fukuoka winner. Although he never finished higher than third or cracked 2:10 in a Marathon outside of Fukuoka, Baranovskyy has run very well in his three appearances here, finishing first, second and third, and never ran slower than 2:08:30. He is especially tough in a race ran in severe weather conditions.
Other invited runners from abroad are Adam Draczynski, who clocked 2:10:49 in Vienna this year; Dmitriy Safronov, who took European Championships bronze in August and clocked 2:11:51 in Podgorica; Luis Feiteira, who recorded 2:11:57 in Praha; and Andrew Lemoncello, who ran 2:13:40 in his debut in London this year. Feiteira also ran in Fukuoka last year and finished sixth in 2:13:07. Among these Lemoncello, with a 27:57.23 10,000m best, may have the best chance to improve on his personal best at the Marathon.
Local attention on the new generation
Turning attention to the domestic runners, two former Fukuoka marathon champions, Tomoaki Kunichika, who won in 2003 with the personal best of 2:07:52 and Tsuyoshi Ogata, who won in 2004 with 2:09:10, will return to the site of their triumph. Ogata is the last Japanese to win the Fukuoka Marathon. Toshinari Suwa and Satoshi Irifune were also top finishers in previous editions. Suwa was second in 2003 with a 2:07:55 personal best while Irifune was second in 2008 in 2:09:23, also a personal best. Irifune arrives in fine form: on 3 November he recorded the second fastest stage (40:36 for 13.5Km) in the East Japan Corporate team Ekiden.
Because of the decline in the Japanese men’s Marathon running in the recent years - only two have cracked 2:10 in the last two years - expectation for young runners with high potential are high. Perhaps the most promising in the field is Takayuki Matsumiya, the national record holder at 5000m with 13:13.20 and the former world 30Km record holder with 1:28:00. His Marathon best is only 2:10:04, but considering his time at shorter distances, Matsumiya should have much faster marathon in him, especially because his twin brother, Yuko, has a marathon best of 2:09:18. Another twin running the race is Tomoya Shimizu, whose brother Masaya was 11th in the 2009 World Championships. His Marathon best of 2:09:23 was recorded in his debut at the 2008 Lake Biwa Marathon. Since then he has ran three marathons but failed to crack 2:12.
Two potentially promising runners – Atsushi Ikawa and Masato Imai - are running their second Marathon. Ikawa made his marathon debut in 2010 Beppu-Oita marathon where he was 4th with 2:11:07. Imai was a superstar of the Hakone Ekiden, Kanto district (area around Tokyo) Collegiate Ekiden Championships. His marathon debut was highly anticipated. However, he was only 10th in 2:18:34 in the 2008 Hokkaido Marathon.
The 2010 is the best Marathon year in history. The number of sub-2:05, sub-2:06, sub-2:08 and sub-2:09 performances as well as performers are all highest ever in history. However, the number of sub-2:07 performances, which stands at 24 is one less than the corresponding number in 2009. Furthermore, the number of sub-2:07 performers, which currently stands at 20 is tied with the corresponding number for 2009. Could we see sub-2:07 performances on Sunday to make 2010 truly the best Marathon year in history?
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
NB: Available for download at right is a statistical reference for this race prepared by Ken Nakamura. PDF, 1.2MB
List of invited runners -
Name, Personal Best
Jaouad Gharib (MAR), 2:05:27
Dmytro Baranovskyy (UKR), 2:07:15
Tekeste Kebede (ETH), 2:07:23
Adam Draczynski (POL), 2:10:49
Dmitriy Safronov (RUS), 2:11:51
Luis Feiteira (POR), 2:11:57
Andrew Lemoncello (GBR), 2:13:40
Tomoaki Kunichika, 2:07:52
Toshinari Suwa, 2:07:55
Tsuyoshi Ogata, 2:08:37
Satoshi Irifune, 2:09:23
Tomoya Shimizu, 2:09:23
Takayuki Matsumiya, 2:10:04
Atsushi Ikawa, 2:11:04
Other Notable runner:
Masato Imai, 2:18:34
Eliud Kiptanui (KEN)
Samson Ramadahni (TAN)
Nicholas Kiprono (UGA)
Kohei Matsumura (JPN)