16 MAY 2014 Preview Gifu, Japan

Tadese bidding to retain Gifu half marathon crown but faces Kenyan challenge

Zersenay Tadese winning at the 2012 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships (Getty Images)Zersenay Tadese winning at the 2012 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright

The fourth annual Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon - Naoko Takahashi Cup - on Sunday (18) should see a thrilling men’s race as the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race organisers have secured the services of three men who have career bests of under an hour, headed by Eritrea’s World record holder Zersenay Tadese.

Five of the top six finishers in last year’s race, including the 2013 winner Tadese, will return to contest this year’s race and the Eritrean is the prohibitive favourite to retain his crown.

In his latest half marathon outing, the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in March, Tadese was only fourth but still recorded the time of 59:38, faster than the personal best of any of the other entrants in Gifu.

Jacob Wanjuki, Cyrus Njui, Abayneh Ayele and Patrick Mwaka – all Kenyans apart from Ayele, who is from Ethiopia -  were third, fourth, fifth, and sixth last year and are back to challenge Tadese, but his main competition may be Kenya’s Bedan Karoki, fifth in the London 2012 Olympic Games 10,000m.

Karoki, who lives in Tokyo, won his half marathon debut in Lisbon recently with 59:58. In his latest race, Karoki was third in the 10,000m at the Hyogo Relays last month with 27:32.83, evidence that he is rounding into form. 

As for their most recent half marathon races, Wanjuki was fourth in All-Japan Corporate team half marathon championships with 1:01:32, while Abayneh Ayele was sixth in the Lisbon Half Marathon with 1:02:14.

Njui has not run a half marathon this year yet, but he was 14th in February’s Tokyo Marathon with 2:09:35.

Kenya’s Mekubo Mogusu - the third sub-60 minute runner in the field after Tadese and Karoki - Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi and Mongolia’s Ser-od Bat-Ochir are entered for the Gifu race and are all well-known distance runners, but also ran last weekend’s Sendai Half Marathon, where they were third with 1:03:19, fourth with 1:03:23 and fifth with 1:03:32, respectively so it is difficult to see them being a factor in Gifu.

Waweru debut intrugue

A particularly intriguing runner in the field is Kenya’s Edward Waweru, who also lives in Japan. He is making his half marathon debut in Gifu but since his 10,000m personal best is an impressive 27:13.94, Waweru’s half marathon debut is awaited with much anticipation. 

In his most recent race, in the Hyogo Relays 10000m, Waweru was second with 27:26.92.

The women’s field may not as strong as men’s field but two-time IAAF World Championships marathon winner Edna Kiplagat has good prospects of breaking the course record which stands at 1:10:03, set by Ethiopia’s Mestawat Tufa in last edition of the race.

Her half marathon personal best is 1:07:41, established in 2012 Great North Run. Since Kiplagat is the only runner with the half marathon best under 1:10, she is a strong favourite, even more so in the light of 2:20:21 marathon she recorded in London last month. 

Gifu is the home town of the 2000 Olympic marathon champion and local legend Naoko Takahashi.  

The race runs along part of road where she used to train in her youth and then finishes at the Gifu Memorial Stadium, where the statue of Takahashi was erected after her Olympic victory. 

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF