The 2009 Fukuoka International Marathon, the 63rd edition of the marathon once known as the unofficial World championships, will be run on Sunday 6 December. It may not be comparable to London, Chicago, and Berlin, but it may still be considered to be the best marathon in Japan.
The Fukuoka Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia, the defending champion and the course record holder, is back to defend his title. Kebede, the bronze medalist at both the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships, ran the fastest marathon on Japanese soil in Fukuoka last year. Furthermore, in last year’s race Tsegaye covered 30 to 35Km in 14:17, one of the fastest 5Km lap time ever recorded in a world class marathon. His personal best, 2:05:20, was set in the 2009 London Marathon. Kebede has run two other marathons in under 2:07 and the average of his three fastest runs is 2:06:03, the third fastest average behind Haile Gebrselassie and Samuel Wanjiru, the World record holder and Olympic champion, respectively. All things considered, Kebede should be a prohibitive favorite in Sunday’s race.
On paper, Evans Cheruiyot of Kenya, who ran 2:06:25 in the 2008 Chicago Marathon, is a main challenger to Tsegaye. Cheruiyot ran 2:09:16 in his marathon debut in December of 2007 and before improving considerably in Chicago just under a year later. However, in his last marathon, in Boston earlier this year, Cheruiyot was only eighth in 2:12:45, and thus he probably is not in the same class as Kebede.
Kebede is not the only past champion in the field. Dmytro Baranovsky, who won in 2005 and finished second in 2006 with the personal best of 2:07:15, is also returning. However, his best days may be behind him for Baranovsky has not broken 2:10 in the last four appearances. However, don’t count him out if the weather turns bad.
[NB: Updated at 17:00 CET to reflect withdrawal of Tsuyoshi Ogata]
Another past champion Tsuyoshi Ogata, who won in 2004, was one of the invited runners. He pulled out of the race at the last minute, which leaves Tomoyuki Sato, who has run 2:09 thrice as the best Japanese in the field. Sato thinks he can improve his personal best dramatically if his race reflects his training.
In debut, Mogusu aiming for 2:07
The most intriguing runner in the field is Mekubo Mogusu, a Kenyan who has lived in Japan since his high school days and who will be making his marathon debut. Mogusu decided to attend college after graduating from high school in Japan, a decision that perplexed many of his friends in Kenya. It is true that he did pass up the possibility of earning money for four years, but Mogusu emphasizes the importance of being coached by coach Ueda of Yamanashi Gakuin University, where Mogusu was a superb ekiden runner, recording stage bests in eight out of nine ekiden races he contested. That is not all. He recorded stage records in five out of nine ekiden races he contested.
Twenty-two year old Mogusu has the half marathon best of 59:48, and his marathon debut is awaited with much anticipation among fans as well as track experts. He’s setting his sight on 2:07 marathon noting that Wanjiru ran 2:06:39 on this course in 2007 in his debut. Wanjiru was Mogusu’s rival when both ran as high school student in Japan. One thing of concern is that in his latest race, the Nagoya Half Marathon on 23 November, Mogusu was only fourth in 1:02:01. He covered the first 5Km in 14:44, whereas the leader went out more than 30 seconds faster. Perhaps the time was slow because he ran a controlled race. He did not slow down in the last half of the race. It should also be noted that Wanjiru ran a mediocre half marathon a few weeks before the fabulous performances he turned in at each of his last two marathons.
Other invited runners are Yonas Kifle of Eriteria, who has the best of 2:07:34; Tekeste Kebede of Ethiopia, who has a best of 2:09:49; Jon Brown of Canada, who has the best of 2:09:31; and Oleg Kulkov of Russia, who has the best of 2:10:13. Although Kifle has run dismal championships, finishing 36th in the Beijing Olympics and failing to finish at the World Championships in Berlin, he has cracked 2:09 in each of three non-championships marathon. Tekeste Kebede’s personal best is the only sub-2:10 marathon in a marathon career spanning five years and 14 marathons. His bet however was recorded in his latest marathon. Brown’s claim to fame is his two fourth place finishes at the Olympics, and thus he knows how to peak for important races.
Statistically speaking, Fukuoka remains at the forefront of marathons in Japan. Using the best top-10 averages, Fukuoka is fastest among Japanese marathons. Additionally, of the top eight best marks for places in Japan, seven have been recorded in Fukuoka.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Invited Runners -
Name, Personal best, Venue
Tsegaye Kebede (ETH), 2:05:20, 2009 London
Evans Cheruiyot (KEN), 2:06:25, 2008 Chicago
Dmytro Baranovsky (UKR), 2:07:15, 2006 Fukuoka
Yonas Kifle (ERI), 2:07:34, 2007 Amsterdam
Jon Brown (CAN), 2:09:31, 2005 London
Tekeste Kebede (ETH), 2:09:49, 2009 Boston
Oleg Kulkov (RUS), 2:10:13, 2009 Zurich
Mekubo Mogusu (KEN), Debut, 59:48, half marathon best
Tomoyuki Sato, 2:09:43 2004 Tokyo
Yu Mitsuya (JPN), 1:29:55 (30Km)
Samson Ramadhani (TAN), 2:08:01, 2003 London
John Kales (KEN), 1:00:47 (half marathon), 2007
Other notable runners -
Harun Njoroge (KEN), 1:01:04, 2008 Sapporo Half Marathon
Joseph Gitau (KEN), 1:01:19, 2008 Sapporo Half Marathon
Dereje Tesfaye Gebrehiwot (ETH), 2:11:10, 2006 Hamburg
Luis Feiteira (POR), 2:11:57, 2009 Praha
Vitaliy Shafar (UKR), 2:12:07, 2007 Eindhoven
Koji Ueoka (JPN), 2:15:03, 2009 Tokyo