There was a Kenyan double today in Sapporo, Japan, today. The defending champion Cyrus Njui (KEN & Hitachi Cable) won the men’s division, while the reigning IAAF World Half Marathon champion Florence Kiplagat (KEN) won the women’s race of the 54th annual Sapporo Half Marathon on Sunday 3 July in Sapporo, the largest metropolis in the northern island of Hokkaido.
For the 17th year in a row a Kenyan living in Japan won the men’s race. In fact, Kenyans running for the Japanese corporate track team occupied top five spots in this year’s race. For Njui (Hitachi Cable) who also won in 2006, it was his third victory in this race, tying with Juma Ikangaa (TAN) who won from 1988 to 1990, Stephan Mayaka (KEN) who won from 1995 and 1997, and Mekubo Mogusu (KEN) who won in 2005, 2007 and 2008, in the number of victories in Sapporo.
However, Njui’s winning time, 1:01:47, was the slowest of his three victories, attesting to the tough conditions the runners had to face on Sunday. The course record (59:54) holder, Mogusu came from behind strongly to finish second in 1:02:11, passing the early leader Josphat Ndambiri (5th at 10,000m in 2007 World Championships) just before 15Km.
“It was quite warm and thus time was not good, but my training had gone well and I was able to run as my coach had told me,” said Nuji in Japanese after the race.
It was third straight victory counting from her half marathon debut for Florence Kiplagat, one of the most versatile runners in the world. Kiplagat is the national 10,000m record holder at 30:11.53, reigning World Half Marathon champion as well as 2009 World Cross Country champion.
Unlike the men’s division, the women’s division of Sapporo Half Marathon has been dominated by Japanese women. The last time a Kenyan woman won this race was back in 2005 when Catherine Ndereba triumphed for a third time. Kiplagat’s winning time, 1:10:29, is the slowest half marathon time of her career; her previous victories were 67:40 and 68:24.
Selly Kaptich Kipyego, running her second half marathon (she was fourth in Hamburg Half Marathon on June 28, 2009 with 1:15:27), finished second with 1:12:03, while fast closing was half marathon debutante Megumi Kinukawa, third with 1:12:22. Kinukawa, who is the graduate of Sendai Ikue High School, also the alma mater of Samuel Wanjiru, won the 5000m in the recent national championship and thus will be running the track distance in Daegu, but she is planning to run the marathon in the near future.
“Today’s race was a test race to see my aptitude for the marathon. I think I passed the preliminary exam,” said 21 years old Kinukawa, who set both 5000m (15:09.96) and 10000m (31:10.02) personal bests last month.
Incidentally, top three finishers in the women’s division has total of six half marathon to their credit (3 for Kiplagat, 2 for Chepyego and 1 for Kinukawa).
How the race unfolded:
The race started fast despite the warm weather, partially because the first kilometre is exclusively downhill (which also mean’s the final kilometre is uphill because the course is essentially out and back).
The men’s leaders Gedion Ngatuny and Josphat Ndambiri covered the first kilometre in 2:48, and nearing 5km (14:12), Cyrus Njui and Jacob Wanjuki joined them in front. By 10km (28:58) Cyrus Njuri and Ndambiri were the leaders, with Ngatuny and Wanjuki falling behind (they were 11 seconds behind at the turn around point).
After 13Km Njui surged ahead of Ndambiri and was never threatened again. Meanwhile, the course record holder Mekubo Mogusu ran a strong last half. Just before 15km (43:34 for Njuri), Mogusu passed Ndambiri to move into second, but he was not able to gain on Njui anymore. The defending champion (won in 2006 and 2010) Njui passed 20Km in 58:33, and won in 1:01:47.
Meanwhile in the women’s race, Florence Kiplagat and Sally Kaptich Chepyego, ran an incredible 2:59 for the first kilometre.
After 5km (15:54) Kiplagat fell behind Chepyego once, but soon she rejoined the leader Chepyego. They were still together at 10km (32:53), but just before the turn-around point, Kiplagat surged (covered the km in 3:17) ahead to leave Chepyego behind. At the turn-around point third place Hiroko Miyauchi was 1:10 behind the leader.
Katsumata passed Miyauchi to move into third place behind two Kenyans after 12km. However, half marathon debutante Megumi Kinukawa was moving up steadily, and by 17Km she passed Katsumata to take third but could not gain on the leaders anymore.
Up in front Kiplagat passed 15km in 49:37 and 20km in 1:06:55 and won in 1:10:29. Chepyego finished second in 1:12:03 and Kinukawa, debutante finished third in 1:12:22.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1) Cyrus Njui (KEN) 1:01:47
2) Mekubo Mogusu (KEN) 1:02:11
3) Josphat Ndambiri (KEN) 1:02:37
4) James Mwangi (KEN) 1:02:52
5) Harun Njoroge (KEN) 1:02:59
6) Naoki Okamoto 1:03:03
1) Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 1:10:29
2) Sally Chepyego (KEN) 1:12:03
3) Megumi Kinukawa 1:12:22
4) Hiroko Miyauchi 1:12:55
5) Misaki Katsumata 1:13:16
6) Yoko Miyauchi 1:13:27 (twin sister)