Gezahegne Abera (ETH) wins the 2000 Olympic Games marathon title (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News

Can Gezahegne Abera gain repeat win in Fukuoka?

The 56th edition of the Fukuoka International Marathon, will be held this Sunday 1 December 2002. Two world bests - 2:09:36.7 in 1967 by Derek Clayton and 2:08:18 by Rob de Castella in 1981 - have been recorded in the race's history. Last year both the World gold (Gezahegne Abera) and silver (Simon Biwott) medallists from Edmonton ran, and this year both the Olympic gold (Abera) and silver (Eric Wainaina) medallists from Sydney are invited.

Contrary to earlier reports Abera will be running the race again this year, and as well as Wainaina of Kenya, will face Pavel Loskutov of Estonia, and the Japanese Nobuyuki Sato, Takayuki Inubushi, Takeshi Hamano and Tomoaki Kunichika.
For Abera who missed this year’s London marathon with injury, Fukuoka is his first race of the year. He is the defending champion and also won in 1999, when he set his current personal best of 2:07:54. Although Abera is the first man to win both the Olympics and World Championships, perhaps because his marathon personal best is modest 2:07:54 (80th in the all time list), he does not attract as much attention as Khalid Khannouchi, the world's fastest ever marathoner, and so his desire to achieve a quick race is great.

Although Wainaina (KEN) is the two time Olympic medallist, having won a bronze in Atlanta in 1996 and a silver in Sydney four years later, his marathon personal best before this year was a modest 2:10:17 (2000 Nagano marathon). However, in the 2002 Tokyo marathon Wainaina improved his marathon best to 2:08:43.

Nobody has ever won three marathon medals in the Olympics, and Wainaina would like to be the first. After missing out on a medal at this Summer’s Commonwealth Games, a feat which would have clinched him a spot on the Kenyan squad for 2004, Wainaina sets out in Fukuoka on Sunday to prove his Olympic credentials. “I will run in the Olympics,” he has confirmed.

After winning a silver medal at the European Championships in Munich, Estonian Pavel Loskutov commented "this was the third marathon of the year. The next one will be Fukuoka in December."

Although he was second in this year's Paris race with 2:08:53, he was still somewhat of a surprise silver medallist in Munich, for his personal best before the Paris had been a modest 2:11:09. Since Loskutov came from behind to finish second in Paris, don’t count him out even if he is not with the early leaders.

Other invited foreign runners of note are John Nada Saya of Tanzania and Larbi Zeroual of France. 

Although his marathon best is modest 2:10:36, since Zeroual has run 10,000m in 27:34.05, which indicates he should have a much faster marathon within him.

Nada Saya made a marathon breakthrough in the 2001 Milano race as he won with a new best of 2:08:57 (improving from 2:13:50). Then he followed it up with a 2:11:10 effort in Torino.

For the Japanese, Fukuoka is the first qualifying race for the World Championships. Two of Japan's Sydney Olympic marathon team members are invited, and they are trying to make the World team for Paris. They are Takayuki Inubushi, a former national record holder at 2:06:57 (since broken by Atsushi Fujita and then Toshinari Takaoka), and Nobuyuki Sato, a bronze medallist in Sevilla ‘99.

Both ran poorly at the Olympic Games. While Sato finished 41st, Inubushi dropped out. Sato ran one marathon after the Olympics, the 2001 Beijing marathon where he finished 10th in 2:10:32.  Inubushi ran the 2001 London Marathon and finished a disappointing 7th in 2:11:42.  Later in the year, he dropped out of the Chicago marathon.

“My minimum goal is to better my personal best,” said Sato. “His training has gone well,” said his team manager Mitsuyo Kusu.  “Sato ran four stages in around the Kyushu ekiden in November and recorded the fastest time in each stage. In one of the stages, Sato beat Toshinari Takaoka (Asian Marathon record holder),” continued Kusu. “He is ready.” 

"Ever since Chicago in 2001, Inubushi has run with a slight tenderness in his upper right leg. But since his marathon training has gone fine, if his right leg holds up he should run well," said his coach Tadasu Kawano. In 1999 Berlin Marathon, Inubushi recorded 2:06:57, a national record. He followed it up with 2:08:16 in the 2002 Tokyo marathon to make the Olympic team. However, that was the last good race for him. For Inubushi, Fukuoka is the race of redemption.

Two runners with high potential for the marathon are Takeshi Hamano and Tomoaki Kunichika. In his fifth marathon of his career at 2002 Lake Biwa Marathon, Hamano improved his marathon best to 2:09:18 (from 2:16:06). On Sunday, he must prove that it was not a fluke. Considering his Half Marathon best of 1:01:34, he should be able to run even faster.

In his marathon debut at 1998 Tokyo marathon Kunichika recorded 2:11:28; he then improved his PB to 2:10:10 in the 1999 Fukuoka event. Unfortunately, he has been troubled with injuries until recently. But he is finally back.

His teammate Katsuhiko Hanada, an 2000 Olympian at 10,000m is confident about his friend’s comeback: “Kunichika is training well, so I have high expection. With injury problems behind him, Kunichika is determined to run well in Fukuoka, and he is ready for a fast pace.” 

Two other Japanese - Tsuyoshi Ogata and Toshio Mano - also deserve to be mentioned. Ogata recorded the best of 2:10:06 in 2001 Berlin Marathon but was dismal 34th in the 2002 London marathon. Mano, perhaps is the only sub 2:12 marathon runner in Japan who holds a full time job. He set his personal best of 2:11:52 in the 2001 Fukuoka, and in the 2002 Tokyo Marathon he was the first Japanese in the race.

In its 55 years history, three runners have won more than three times. Both Frank Shorter and Toshihiko Seko won four times, while Jerome Drayton won three times. Can Abera join them? The course record is 2:06:51 by Atsushi Fujita. Can Abera beat the course record, which should bring him into the spotlight he deserves.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Invited Runners - Personal Best and venue
Gezahegne Abera (ETH) 2:07:54, 99 Fukuoka
Eric Wainaina (KEN) 2:08:43, 02 Tokyo
Pavel Loskutov (EST) 2:08:53, 02 Paris
John Nada Saya (TAN) 2:08:57, 01 Milano
Larbi Zeroual (FRA) 2:10:36, 00 Rotterdam
Eliud Lagat (KEN) 2:11:21, 02 Hamburg
Nam-Kyun Chung (KOR) 2:11:29, 00 Dong-A
Romulo Da Silva (BRA) 2:12:24, 01 Berlin

Takayuki Inubushi 2:06:57, 99 Berlin
Nobuyuki Sato 2:08:48, 98 Fukuoka
Takeshi Hamano 2:09:18, 02 Lake Biwa
Tsuyoshi Ogata 2:10:06, 01 Berlin
Toshiya Katayama 2:11:22, 02 Lake Biwa
Masami Soeta 2:11:45, 01 Beijing
Toshio Mano 2:11:52, 01 Fukuoka
Kazuo Ietani 2:12:37, 01 Tokyo