The elite field at the pre-race press conference for the Lake Biwa Marathon (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
Preview Otsu, Japan

Final Olympic qualifying opportunity for Japanese men at Lake Biwa Marathon

The Lake Biwa Marathon is the final qualifying race for Japanese men hoping to make the Olympic team, and the door is wide open for additions to the squad for Rio at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (6).

Doubling up as the Japanese Championships, the 71st edition of the Lake Biwa Marathon will start at Ojiyama stadium in Otsu at 12:30pm. And unlike last Sunday’s Tokyo Marathon, the weather in Otsu on Sunday is forecast to be wet and unseasonably warm.

So far, the fastest time by a Japanese athlete in the Olympic qualifying races is 2:08:56 by Satoru Sasaki in Fukuoka in December. With the fastest time by a Japanese man at the Tokyo Marathon being 2:10:57, it is conceivable that there could be two additions to the team from Sunday’s race.

At the pre-race press conference, all the leading Japanese contenders were unanimous in their goal: “I want to be the first Japanese with a sub-2:10 clocking.”

But the race also has a strong international field with six men who own PBs faster than 2:09.

Kenya’s Lucas Rotich is the fastest in the field. His best of 2:07:17 was set when winning last year’s Hamburg Marathon. He also has PBs of 59:44 for the half marathon and 26:43.98 for the 10,000m, which suggest that he is yet to fulfil his marathon potential.

“I trained for four months running about 180km a week, so my goal is to run well and improve my personal best,” said Rotich, who has contested only four marathons to date. “I have trained in the rain, so it does not bother me. As for the high temperature, let’s see if I can handle it.”

Henryk Szost set a Polish record of 2:07:39 at the 2012 Lake Biwa Marathon, when he finished second to Samuel Ndungu. His last sub-2:10 run was back in April 2014, but he is confident of recapturing his best form on Sunday.

“I trained for 40 days running more than 160km a week in New Mexico,” he said. “Since I trained well, I would like to improve my best. Lake Biwa is where I recorded a Polish national record, so I would like to run well again this year, but I am little concerned with the temperature. I run best at about 15C and tomorrow will be warmer.”

Ethiopia’s Shura Kitata has competed in just two marathons so far, having run 2:08:53 for third place in Shanghai last November and 2:10:20 for second place in Xiamen two months ago. The youngster is an unknown quantity and could be set for a big breakthrough.

Munyo Solomon Mutai of Uganda, Alphonse Felix Simbu of Tanzania and Ser-Od Bat-Ochir of Mongolia round out the invited foreign field.

Although his 2:10:42 PB makes him one of the slowest in the field, Mutai has some of the best credentials. The 23-year-old took the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, finishing ahead of a strong field in conditions similar to those expected on Sunday.

Simbu finished 12th at the 2015 World Championships, while Bat-Ochir was third at last year’s Lake Biwa Marathon.

The pace maker will try to run 3:00 for each of the first 30 kilometres. After that, the leading runners will try to maintain the tempo.

All five of the invited domestic runners have sub-2:10 personal bests and two of them have run faster than 2:09.

Suehiro Ishikawa set his 2:09:10 personal best at the Lake Biwa Marathon in 2013. Kentaro Nakamoto, meanwhile, qualified for the 2012 Olympics after his run at that year’s Lake Biwa Marathon. Otsu may be their lucky city.

Nakamoto is a good championships runner, having finished 10th at the 2011 World Championships, sixth at the 2012 Olympics and fifth at the 2013 World Championships. Although his personal best of 2:08:35 was set at the 2013 Beppu-Oita Marathon, his next two fastest times were both recorded at the Lake Biwa Marathon.

In short, Nakamoto is yet to run a bad race in Otsu and has always run faster than 2:10 there. “I have been injured a lot lately, and it is only since January that I was able to train consistently,” he said. “However, I was able to complete two 40km runs. I am not too concerned with the high temperature. The Olympics is special, so I would like to run there again.”

Kazuhiro Maeda competed at the 2009, 2013 and 2015 World Championships, but is yet to compete at the Olympics. “This is my last chance to make the Olympic team,” he said. “I would like to make all my previous training and experience count tomorrow.”

Maeda qualified for last year’s World Championships on a rainy day, so the wet weather on Sunday could work to his advantage.

Suehiro Ishikawa recorded his personal best of 2:09:10 in Otsu, while Tomoya Adachi’s second-best time was also recorded here. Among the invited Japanese runners, Masanori Sakai is the only one to have never previously competed at the Lake Biwa Marathon.

Although not classed as ‘invited’ runners, five other Japanese men with PBs quicker than 2:10 will be competing on Sunday.

Popular and prolific racer Yuki Kawauchi will be one of those, but since he ran poorly in Fukuoka, he would be considered for the team if he ran sub-2:06:30 on Sunday.

Former national 5000m record-holder Takayuki Matsumiya, now 36, will be making a final attempt to realise his marathon potential. Ryuji Kashiwabara, who excelled in the mountain climb stage of the Hokone Ekiden, is also entered.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Elite field

Lucas Rotich (KEN) 2:07:17
Henryk Szost (POL) 2:07:39
Kazuhiro Maeda (JPN) 2:08:00
Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 2:08:14
Kentaro Nakamoto (JPN) 2:08:35
Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (MGL) 2:08:50
Shura Kitata (ETH) 2:08:53
Masanori Sakai (JPN) 2:09:10
Suehiro Ishikawa (JPN) 2:09:10
Takayuki Matsumiya (JPN) 2:09:14
Tomoya Adachi (JPN) 2:09:59
Munyo Solomon Mutai (UGA) 2:10:42
Alphonce Felix Simbu (TAN) 2:12:01