Viktor Röthlin, who won the bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, won the 2008 Tokyo Marathon - an IAAF Road Race Silver Label event - with 2:07:23. It was a course record by more than two minutes, eclipsing the mark of 2:09:45 set by Daniel Njenga last year.
It was also a personal best and Swiss record by nearly a minute for Röthlin, whose previous personal best was 2:08:20, recorded at the 2007 Zürich Marathon. Röthlin was ecstatic after the race, repeating simply, “Unbelievable”. He then elaborated
“Winning the Tokyo Marathon in the Marathon craze country of Japan is just unbelievable. I have no words to describe my feeling.” Asked of his thoughts on the upcoming Olympics, Röthlin said, “I think I am on the right track for Beijing.”
Two athletes running their second Marathon made a huge improvement on their personal bests. Julius Gitahi, the better known of the two, improved his personal best from 2:17:26, which was recorded in his debut Marathon, the 2007 Hokkaido Marathon, to 2:08:57 to finish third. Gitahi who was ninth at 5000m in the 2000 Olympic Games and has a 10,000m best of 27:11.17, has made a successful transition to a Marathon runner. But perhaps more significant from the Japanese perspective, because he could make the Japanese Olympic Marathon team, was the second place finish by Arata Fujiwara.
Massive improvement by Fujiwara could mean a ticket to Beijing
Fujiwara improved his Marathon best from 2:38:37 to 2:08:40 to finish second in the race. Like Gitahi, Fujiwara was running his second Marathon of his career. In his debut Marathon, Fujiwara hit the wall hard; he took nearly an hour and five minutes to cover the final 12.195Km. On Sunday Fujiwara was superb. He covered the same distance in 37minutes and 51 seconds. The favorite to make the Marathon team, Toshinari Suwa, who was seventh at the 2004 Olympics and was hoping to return to the Games again, had his hoped dashed, when he was only fourth and the second Japanese with 2:09:16. He was followed by two other runners who were expected to battle for the Olympic team spot. Satoshi Irifune was fifth in 2:09:40 and Kurao Umeki was sixth in 2:11:00.
All invited runners from abroad, except Röthlin, had an off day. The defending champion Daniel Njenga was only 13th in 2:14:11. Jon Brown, Abel Kirui and Hailu Negussie all dropped out of the race, while Samson Ramadhani finished in 2:18:47 and Eric Wainaina in 2:20:01.
The special guest runner Koji Shimizu, the 1997 Tokyo Marathon champion, who was seventh in the 1999 World Championships and won a silver medal at the 2002 Asian Games, ran the final Marathon of his career in Tokyo, finishing in 2:24:22. The race has yet to invite elite women’s runner and thus the women’s winning time was only 2:35:35 by Claudia Dreher.
How the race unfolded:
After passing 3Km in 9:06, the pace picked up and the lead pack of about 30 runners passed the fifth kilometre checkpoint in 14:55. The pace stayed fast and thus the competition turned into the race of attrition. The pack was reduced to around 25 runners by 20Km (1:00:18) and reduced further to 18 by 25Km (1:15:34).
Then the real racing started as David Kemboi picked up the pace after 25Km and covered the kilometre from 25 to 26 in 2:58. The pack stretched out, and thus by 27Km the lead pack was reduced to 11. After the leaders covered the 27Km to 28Km in 2:55, Takashi Ota fell behind the leaders and the pack was reduced to ten runners - Kemboi, Njenga, Röthlin, Umeki, Gitahi, Takatsuka, Fujiwara, Suwa, Irifune and Ramadhani.
At 30Km, after the last pace setter David Kemboi dropped out, Irifune made his move thus stretching out the pack. A kilometre-and-a-half later, it was Röthlin’s turn to surge. He reduced the lead pack to six - Rothlin, Fujiwara, Njenga, Umeki, Gitahi and Irifune. Among them, Njenga was the first to lose contact at 32.5Km. Umeki and Irifune fell behind 300m later, leaving Röthlin, Fujiwara and Gitahi in front. The kilometre between 33 and 34 was covered in blazing 2:56.
After passing 35Km in 1:45:57, Röthlin put a pedal down. Fujiwara was the first casualty, falling behind at 35.6Km. Gitahi did not last much longer for he fell behind 400m later, thus leaving Röthlin alone in front. By 40Km, Röthlin was 44 seconds ahead of his nearest pursuer, Fujiwara, who caught Gitahi at 36.5Km and then left him behind just before the 40Km check point. Fujiwara showed a clear sign of leg cramps several times in the late stage of the race.
“My leg was clamping in the late stage of the race and the worst case scenario (of dropping out of the race) crossed my mind,” Fujiwara said. But he kept on going and was able to shake off Gitahi.
“I was happy to handle the situation well. It is a strange feeling to finish second.” As the first Japanese in the race with a quite respectable time of 2:08:40, Fujiwara could be selected for the Olympic team. It now depends on the results of Lake Biwa Marathon in two weeks.
“I will be delighted if I was selected (for the Olympic team),” said Fujiwara. Röthlin stretched out his lead over Fujiwara to a minute and 17 seconds and won comfortably.
Ken Nakamura assisted by Akihiro Onishi for the IAAF
Weather: Sunny; temperature: 2.6C; humidity: 42%; wind 0.8m/s North East
1. Viktor Röthlin (SUI) 2:07:23
2. Arata Fujiwara 2:08:40
3. Julius Gitahi (KEN) 2:08:57
4. Toshinari Suwa 2:09:16
5. Satoshi Irifune 2:09:40
6. Kurao Umeki 2:11:00
7. Seiji Kobayashi 2:11:02
8. Toshikazu Takatsuka 2:11:05
9. Hiroyuki Horihata 2:11:47
10. Takashi Ota 2:12:10
11. Kenjiro Jitsui 2:13:38
12. Shingo Sato 2:14:03
13. Daniel Njenga (KEN) 2:14:11
14. Manabu Itayama 2:14:13
5Km - 14:55 - Abel Kirui
10Km - 29:58 (15:03) - Makoto Iwase
15Km - 45:02 (15:04) - Daniel Njenga
20Km - 1:00:18 (15:16) - David Kemboi
Half - 1:03:39
25Km - 1:15:34 (15:16) - Julius Maina
30Km - 1:30:47 (15:13) - David Kemboi
35Km - 1:45:57 (15:10) - Viktor Rothlin
- 1:45:57 - Julius Gitahi
- 1:45:58 - Arata Fujiwara
- 1:46:06 - Satoshi Irifune
40Km - 2:00:56 (14:59) - Viktor Rothlin
- 2:01:40 - Arata Fujiwara
- 2:01:45 - Julius Gitahi
- 2:02:11 - Toshinari Suwa
Finish - 2:07:23 (6:27) - Viktor Rothlin