04 MAR 2011 Preview 4 Mach 2011 – Otsu, Japan

Kipsang and Merga headline Lake Biwa field – PREVIEW

Wilson Kipsang wins the 2010 Frankfurt Marathon in a course record of 2:04:57 (Victah Sailer)Wilson Kipsang wins the 2010 Frankfurt Marathon in a course record of 2:04:57 (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

Otsu, JapanEthiopian Deribe Merga and Paul Kipsang of Kenya will be making a course record assault at Sunday’s (6) Lake Biwa Marathon in Otsu, Japan.

Marking its 66th edition this weekend, the Lake Biwa contest is the oldest continuous Marathon in Japan and the first in Japan to earn an IAAF Gold Label. However, the course record of 2:07:34 set in 2001, is the slowest among the three Gold Label Road Race marathons in Japan.

The Fukuoka Marathon has the fastest course record at 2:05:18, while the Tokyo Marathon’s record is 2:07:23. This situation might change on Sunday as Kipsang, who clocked 2:04:57 in Frankfurt last year and Merga, with a 2:06:38 best from the 2008 London Marathon, have a good chance to run 2:06 or faster her on Sunday.

Merga, who has clocked 2:06 twice, most recently won the RAK Half Marathon with a near personal best of 59:24 so he is obviously in good form. Kipsang is even faster. After recording sub-one hour Half Marathons four times and a fourth place finish in the 2009 World Half Marathon Championships, Kipsang made his marathon debut in 2010, finishing third in Paris Marathon with 2:07:13. Six-and-a-half months later, he improved he improved by more than two minutes and became the eighth man to crack 2:05. Kipsang not only has a chance to break the course record, but perhaps even take a shot at the Japanese All-Comers record of 2:05:18 set by Tsegaye Kebede in Fukuoka in 2009. And while on the topic of records, he can also go after the fastest marathon run in the month of March, 2:06:49 by Sylvester Teimet from the 2010 Seoul Marathon. It should be noted that only Haile Gebrselassie has recorded multiple sub-2:05 marathons. Can Kipsang join the exclusive club?

All invited runners from abroad have a career best under 2:09 and furthermore, except for Yared Asmeron and Merga, they have all recorded their personal bests in 2010. So if for any reason both Kipsang and Merga falter, Mohamed El Hachimi, Iaroslav Musinschi, Asmerom and Moses Kangogo could fill the void. For Asmeron, this is his third Lake Biwa marathon. He was second in 2008 with 2:08:34 (personal best) and third in 2009 with 2:10:49. For El Hachimi and Kangogo, Lake Biwa is their first marathon since they first cracked 2:09. So the race will be the test to see if they have became truly elite Marathon runners. 

The race also doubles as the final qualifying race for the Japan’s World Championships Marathon team, and so far, only two slots are filled. Yukihiro Kitaoka, who finished second in the 2010 Asian Games, and Yuki Kawauchi, who improved his personal best by four minutes in the recent Tokyo marathon, have clinched their spots, which still leaves three slots up for grabs. The qualifying standard is to be the first Japanese in the race with a time under 2:09:30.  However, the first Japanese in the Lake Biwa Marathon might be able to clinch the team slot with a slower time. Since Yoshinori Oda, the second Japanese in the Tokyo Marathon (the first Japanese in the race, Kawauchi, made the team automatically), recorded 2:09:03 in his debut Marathon, while Kazuhiro Maeda, the first Japanese in the Beppu-Oita Marathon recorded 2:10:29 and Takayuki Matsumiya, the first Japanese in the Fukuoka Marathon, clocked 2:10:54, the first Japanese at Lake Biwa probably can clinch the team berth with a time around 2:10. 

The contenders for the team berth include Masashi Hayashi, Kensuke Takahashi, Kentaro Nakamoto and Satoshi Yoshii. Their Marathon bests are 2:11:17 for Hayashi, 2:11:25 for Takahashi, 2:11:42 for Nakamoto and 2:12:24 for Yoshii. Although Hayashi, Takahashi and Nakamoto have all run at least five marathons, none of them have broken 2:11, so they may not be able to run 2:10 on Sunday. Only Satoshi Yoshii may have a 2:10 Marathon in his future as he has run only one Marathon so far leaving his potential somewhat uncertain.

However, the Japanese in the race with the best potential is Masato Imai, who finished fifth in the 2010 Fukuoka Marathon with 2:13:23. In Fukuoka, Imai courageously chased after the leaders when Kiptanui and Gharib took off after 15Km. However, Imai paid for the fast pace in the middle part of the closing stage of the race. With three more months of training under his belt and the experience gained in Fukuoka, can Imai fulfill his marathon potential on Sunday? 

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Ed. Note: A statistical reference (PDF, 1.0 MB), prepared by Nakamura, is attached in the ‘Related Items’ section at right. Nakamura is solely responsible for all content.

List of Invited runners:
Wilson Kipsang (KEN), 2:04:57, 2010 Frankfurt
Deribe Merga (ETH), 2:06:38, 2008 London
Mohamed El Hachimi (MAR), 2:08:17, 2010 Seoul
Iaroslav Musinschi (MDA), 2:08:32, 2010 Dusseldorf
Yared Asmerom (ERI), 2:08:34, 2008 Lake Biwa
Moses Kangogo (KEN), 2:08:58, 2010 Dublin

Japanese
Masashi Hayashi, 2:11:17, 2010 Beppu-Oita
Kensuke Takahashi, 2:11:25, 2009 Tokyo
Kentaro Nakamoto, 2:11:42, 2010 Beppu-Oita
Satoshi Yoshii, 2:12:24, 2010 Lake Biwa

Pace makers:
Nicholas Chelimo (KEN), 2:07:38
Patrick Nthiwa (KEN), 1:00:23 half marathon
Samuel Ndungu (KEN), 1:00:55 half marathon