Japhet Kosgei (right) wearing no.2 (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Otsu, Japan

Japhet Kosgei just short of course record in Lake Biwa Marathon

Japhet Kosgei of Kenya won the 58th annual Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon today in near record time of 2:07:39, thus becoming the first Kenyan to win this oldest marathon in Japan.

Spain's Antonio Pena who won this race two years ago in the course record time of 2:07:34 finished second with 2:07:59, and finishing third with a national collegiate record as well as a national debut record of 2:08:12 was Masakazu Fujiwara, the 2001 World University Games Half Marathon champion. (Previous – collegiate: 2:09:50, 2000, Atsushi Sato; debut: 2:08:53, 1991, Koichi Morishita).

Finishing fourth in the personal best time of 2:08:28 was Koji Shimizu, who had to perform well in order to keep his company sponsorship.

Kosgei had said prior to the race - “I'd like to set a course record,” but eventually missed the mark by five seconds. For Kosgei it was his second marathon victory in Japan, having won the 2000 Tokyo marathon in 2:07:15. Although an Ethiopian (Abebe Bikila in 1961 and 1965) and a Tanzanian (Simon Mrashani in 1991) have won this race before, a Kenyan has never won in Lake Biwa.

The race day conditions were near ideal 12C and 63% humidity.  Unfortunately, the 2000 Olympic bronze medallist Tesfaye Tola of Ethiopia was a last minute withdrawal.

The race started fast (5Km in 15:04 and 10Km in 30:01) with Steve Moneghetti of Australia along with experienced pace setter Silvio Guerra of Ecuador, in front. In spite of the course record pace all the invited runners stayed together in a huge pack. It was turning into a race of attrition, and the first big casualty came after half way (1:03:44), that of Simon Biwott of Kenya, the World Championships silver medallist. Next it was Satoshi Irifune who fell away from the leading group.

By 27Km ten runners – Steve Moneghetti, Antonio Pena, Lee Troop, Japhet Kosgei, Masakazu Fujiwara, Koji Shimizu, Tomoaki Kunichika, Atsushi Sato, Takeshi Hamano and  Toshihiro Iwasa - were left in the front pack. Next to go was Toshihiro Iwasa and by 30Km, Tomoaki Kunichika and Steve Moneghetti had also left the lead pack, leaving seven runners.

Historically the 'final' pack in this race has often broken up at 32Km on an uphill stage, and it was no different this year. Kosgei surged and the pack strung out. With this surge Takeshi Hamano and Atsushi Sato started to lose contact leaving just five runners out in front.

Next to go was Lee Troop of Australia, leaving Kosgei, Pena, Shimizu and Fujiwara. Kosgei surged again after 35Km and he finally broke away leaving Pena in second, Fujiwara in third and Shimizu in fourth.

By 41Km Kosgei was 8 seconds ahead of Pena and won in 2:07:39 missing the course record by only 5 seconds. Finishing second, Pena was some twenty seconds adrift.

Kosgei confirmed - “I have been training in Eldoret since since mid-November.  Since Lake Biwa course is quite flat, I trained for a flat course."

"I did not run too well last year so I am satisfied with my time. Actually I would have been happy with 2:08."

Whereas Pena said -  “I have been training in Majorca for the last three months, focusing on my endurance so I could maintain a fast pace.”

Fujiwara in third commented - "I knew I could beak 2:09:50. I trained hard hoping to run around 2:08:30. I am going to train hard for the World Championships so I can beat them (Kosgei and Pena) next time."

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
with thanks to Akihiro Onishi and Tatsuo Terada. 

Temperature 12C, 63% humidity, Wind North 1.5m/s

1) Japhet Kosgei  (KEN)  2:07:39
2) Antonio Pena  (ESP)  2:07:59
3) Masakazu Fujiwara 2:08:12   National debut/Collegiate record
4) Koji Shimizu 2:08:28 PR
5) Atsushi Sato 2:08:50 PR
6) Takeshi Hamano 2:09:29
7) Lee Troop (AUS) 2:09:49
8) Tomoaki Kunichika  2:10:42
9) Satoshi Watanabe  2:11:18
10) Toshinari Suwa  2:11:47

5Km      15:04
10Km    30:01 (14:57)
15Km    45:07 (15:06)
20Km    1:00:24 (15:17)
Half       1:03:44
25Km    1:15:31 (15:07)
30Km    1:30:31 (15:00)
35Km    1:45:42 (15:11)
40Km    2:01:08 (15:26)
Finish    2:07:39 (6:31)

Japanese World Championships qualification –

The Lake Biwa marathon was the final qualifying race for the World Championships marathon team.  The first Japanese in the race with sub 2:10 clocking will automatically selected for the World Championships marathon team.  Hence Fujiwara is on the team, joining Shigeru Aburaya - who was second in Tokyo marathon - and Tsuyoshi Ogata - who finished second in Fukuoka Marathon.

Since no other Japanese broke 2:10 in the qualifying races in Fukuoka and Tokyo, most likely Koji Shimizu and Atsushi Sato who finished fourth and fifth respectively in sub 2:09 clockings will join Fujiwara, Ogata and Aburaya. The final team member will be announced by Japan AAF later this month.  It should be noted that Aburaya, Ogata and Sato are teammates at Chugoku Electric Power in Hiroshima, while Koji Shimizu belongs to different team (NTT Japan West) and lives in Hiroshima.