Japanese men will be aiming for Olympic team selection at the Tokyo Marathon, while the international athletes will have one eye on securing the Abbott World Marathon Majors title at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (28).
It is the penultimate Olympic qualifying race for Japanese men, the others being last year’s World Championships, the Fukuoka Marathon in December and next week’s Lake Biwa Marathon.
It is also the concluding race of the World Marathon Majors series and two athletes in Sunday’s race are in contention to take the overall title.
Kenya’s Dickson Chumba is currently equal second in the men’s standings with 34 points. If he wins on Sunday, he will be tied with Eliud Kipchoge on points.
Birhane Dibaba has 34 points in the women’s standings and is third overall, but a victory in Tokyo will be enough to leap-frog current series leaders Mary Keitany and Mare Dibaba to take the World Marathon Majors title.
As well as being in contention to take the World Marathon Majors series, Chumba and Dibaba could also become the first repeat winners of the Tokyo Marathon.
Chumba faces multiple global medallists
Chumba set a course record of 2:05:42 when winning in Tokyo in 2014. He went on to improve his PB to 2:04:32 to finish third at the Chicago Marathon later that year. In 2015, he reversed his finishing positions at those two marathons, placing third in Tokyo and winning in Chicago.
Emmanuel Mutai is the fastest in this year’s field. The Kenyan ran 2:03:13 when finishing second to world-record-setting Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. A consistent performer, Mutai’s slowest season’s best over the past nine years has been 2:08:01. The 2009 world silver medallist has run faster than 2:04 on two occasions and has nine sub-2:07 performances to his name.
Olympic and 2013 world champion Stephen Kiprotich will be returning to the scene of his 2:06:33 PB, set when finishing second last year. He also finished third in Tokyo in 2012, so a victory on Sunday would mean a full set of podium finishes for the Ugandan.
Kiprotich is keen to defend his Olympic title, but first he needs to make the team. “In 2012 I was selected based on my third-place finish in Tokyo,” he said. “On Sunday, I could be selected if I can show a good performance.”
Kenya’s Abel Kirui, world champion in 2009 and 2011, is keen to put in a strong performance this weekend after below-par performances in his two previous outings in Tokyo; he was 10th in 2014 and failed to finish in 2008. Kirui has a PB of 2:05:04 from the 2009 Rotterdam Marathon, but the last time he ran faster than 2:09 was when taking the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics.
Feyisa Lilesa is the third athlete in the field with a PB faster than 2:05. Like Mutai, Kiprotich and Kirui, the 26-year-old Ethiopian is a global medallist, having taken bronze at the 2011 World Championships. He set his 2:04:52 PB when finishing second at the 2012 Chicago Marathon. Although his last marathon victory came in 2010, he achieved top-five finishes in Dubai, Rotterdam and Berlin last year.
They may not have the fastest PBs in the field, but Kenyan duo Eliud Kiptanui and Bernard Kipyego have both set lifetime bests in the past six months.
Kiptanui clocked 2:05:21 to finish second in Berlin, while Kipyego won in Amsterdam in 2:06:19. Kipyego, the 2009 world half-marathon silver medallist and 2007 world cross-country bronze medallist, finished third in Tokyo in 2013.
At the pre-race press conference, the race organisers announced that the pace-makers have been asked to go through the half-way mark in about 1:02:30 to 1:03:00, but the elite field may push them to go quicker. “I can run faster if the weather is good,” said Kiprotich.
“The pace is not that fast,” agreed Lilesa. “I can run 62 minutes for the half marathon.”
Masato Imai looks to be the leading Japanese entrant. He booked his spot on the 2015 World Championships team after being the top Japanese finisher at last year’s Tokyo Marathon, setting a big personal best of 2:07:39.
He will be challenged by Kohei Matsumura, who was the top Japanese finisher in Tokyo two years ago, as well as Hiroaki Sano, Koji Gokaya, and Takehiro Deki, who were the second, third and fourth Japanese finishers respectively at last year’s Tokyo Marathon.
Kenta Murayama, the twin brother of national 10,000m record-holder Kota, will be making his marathon debut. He – along with fellow debutant Yuma Hattori – will be closely watched by fans and experts.
Defending champion Dibaba takes on consistent Kiprop
Ethiopia’s Birhane Dibaba will defend her Tokyo Marathon crown. Having clocked a PB of 2:22:30 when finishing second in Tokyo two years ago, she returned to the Japanese capital last year to win in 2:23:15 and then went on to finish third at the Chicago Marathon for the second year in a row.
Helah Kiprop looks to be Dibaba’s toughest opposition. The Kenyan finished second to Dibaba in Tokyo last year in a PB of 2:24:03 and then went on to take the silver medal at the World Championships in Beijing.
Kiprop currently has 32 points in the World Marathon Majors standings, so could potentially accrue a series total of 41 points if she wins on Sunday, but she would miss out on the overall victory through the tie-break rule, as she was beaten by current series co-leader Mare Dibaba in Beijing.
The fastest and most experienced woman in the field is two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat. The 36-year-old had an indifferent season in 2015, starting with an 11th-place finish at the London Marathon. She finished fifth at the World Championships, but then ended her year on a high with a 1:08:21 half-marathon victory in Glasgow in October. Her best of 2:19:50 was set in 2012.
Two other women in the field have sub-2:21 PBs. Aberu Kebede set her best of 2:20:30 when winning the 2012 Berlin Marathon and then went on to win the Tokyo Marathon in 2013. She came within 18 seconds of her PB when finishing second in Berlin last year. Like Dibaba and Chumba, she could become the first repeat winner in Tokyo.
Fellow Ethiopian Shure Demise clocked a world U20 best of 2:20:59 at last year’s Dubai Marathon on her debut at the distance, and then ended her year with victory at the Toronto Marathon.
Other strong Ethiopians in the field include Amane Gobena and Ashete Dido, both of whom set personal bests last year. Gobena clocked a lifetime best of 2:23:30 at the start of 2015 and went on to win the Istanbul Marathon in November. Dido’s best, set in Dubai, is just a fraction slower at 2:23:43.
The pace-makers in the women’s race will aim to cover the first half in 70 minutes, setting up a finish time in the region of 2:20, which would be well inside the course record of 2:22:23 set in 2014 by Tirfi Tsegaye.
But for the athletes looking to secure Olympic selection, the victory is more important than the time.
“In order to make the team for Rio, I must win,” said Dibaba. “Of course, the time is also important, but if I win I may be selected.”
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Elite fields (with PBs)
Emmanuel Mutai (KEN) 2:03:13
Dickson Chumba (KEN) 2:04:32
Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) 2:04:52
Abel Kirui (KEN) 2:05:04
Eliud Kiptanui (KEN) 2:05:21
Bernard Kipyego (KEN) 2:06:19
Stephen Kiprotich (UGA) 2:06:33
Samuel Ndungu (KEN) 2:07:04
Masato Imai (JPN) 2:07:39
Arata Fujiwara (JPN) 2:07:48
Kohei Matumura (JPN) 2:08:09
Hiroaki Sano (JPN) 2:09:12
Koji Gokaya (JPN) 2:09:21
Javier Guerra (ESP) 2:09:33
Takehiro Deki (JPN) 2:10:02
Tsuyoshi Ugachi (JPN) 2:10:50
Hiroyuki Yamamoto (JPN) 2:11:48
Teklemariam Medhin (ERI) debut
Kenta Murayama (JPN) debut
Edna Kiplagat (KEN) 2:19:50
Aberu Kebede (ETH) 2:20:30
Shure Demise (ETH) 2:20:59
Birhane Dibaba (ETH) 2:22:30
Amane Gobena (ETH) 2:23:29
Isabellah Andersson (SWE) 2:23:41
Ashete Dido (ETH) 2:23:43
Helah Kiprop (KEN) 2:24:03
Maja Neuenschwander (SUI) 2:26:49