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Kosgei beats Lee to win Tokyo marathon

Japhet Kosgei out duelled Lee Bongju, as Inubushi finished fourth
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

The third of the Japanese Olympic qualifying marathon took place on Sunday February 13 in Tokyo, under cloudy sky. Although he did not improve his PR, Japhet Kosgei of Kenya undefeated in three marathon starts (2:09:59 in Torino, 2:11:27 in Venice, and 2:07:09 in Rotterdam) broke away from Lee Bong-ju at 39Km to win fourth marathon in a row in 2:07:15. Lee improved his own Korean record to 2:07:20, while the best Japanese finish was by a national marathon record holder Takayuki Inubushi.

Nobuyuki Sato was pre-selected for the Olympic team due to the strength of his third place finish at the World Championships in Sevilla. Since nobody impressed the selectors in the 1999 Fukuoka marathon, the second of the Olympic qualifying race, two slots still remained. The race attracted all the attention, not only because it was an Olympic qualifying race, but because it was the Takayuki Inubushi’s first marathon since his record run in the Berlin marathon, where he set a national record of 2:06:57. In this race, he had to show that 2:06 was not a fluke. Other main contenders running in Tokyo marathon for an Olympic team are, Hiroshi Miki who was second in the last year's race in 2:08:05, Koji Shimizu, who was third in the last year's race in 2:09:00, and Tadayuki Ojima. Ojima who qualified for the World Championships team by running 2:09:10 in the 1998 Fukuoka marathon was dismal 36th in 2:24:29 in the Championships. He had improved in each of his three marathon start until the World Championships, but he further need to improve his PR order to be in contention for the Olympic team.

The race proceeded with a nice even pace, thanks to great pace setting job by Armando Quintanilla of Mexico and Makhosonke Fika of RSA; the pack run each 5Km segment in approximately 15:00 (slowest 5Km was 15:17, while the fastest was 14:52). The half marathon point was passed in 1:03:20, slightly faster than the last year when Gert Thys set the course record of 2:06:33. By 28Km, both Fika and Quintanilla were gone, and sensing that pace is slowing down, at 29Km, Japhet Kosgei started to force the pace.

The 30Km was passed in 1:30:21, slightly slower than last year’s 1:30:04. When Japhet Kosgei surged strongly at 31Km, only Lee Bong-ju of Korea was able to cover the move immediately. While Tadayuki Ojima, Hiroshi Miki, and Koji Shimizu all lost contact with the lead pack, four other runners eventually caught up with Lee and Kosgei.

So there was only one Japanese left in the lead pack; as expected, it was Takayuki Inubushi, a national record holder. From the pack of six (Kosgei, Lee, Juzdado, Inubushi, Moneghetti and Baek), it was Moneghetti who lost contact next; he eventually finished 7th in 2:10:00. Next to go was Baek Seung-do of Korea who was 9th at the 1999 Fukuoka marathon on December 5 and the pack was down to four. Then at the aid station after 35Km (1:45:30), Inubushi missed his bottle, and had to drink a plain water. But soon after drinking plain water he was struck with side stitch problem; he slowly fell behind. As three start to climb the hill, Juzdado was the next to go at 37Km, and the race came down to Kosgei and Lee. As Kosgei surged several times up the hill, Lee fell few meters behind; but each time, he fought back and regained contact.

Finally at 39Km, it was Lee's turn to surge; but not only Kosgei covered Lee's move, he counter attacked with his own surge, and daylight opened up between Lee and Kosgei. Lee fell behind Kosgei by some 10-15m. Kosgei covered 35Km to 40Km in 15:14, which is amazing considering the course rises some 30m from 35Km to 40Km (Thys in 1999 covered the segment in 15:09 onto his 2:06:33 which was the split record for 35Km to 40Km). The gap between Kosgei and Lee slowly increased. At the end, Kosgei was 5 seconds ahead of Lee with 2:07:15, a second fastest time on the course.

Unlike women's counterpart, where Eri Yamaguchi and Harumi Hiroyama run impressive marathon recently, Japanese men's performance were disappointing. Many fans were hoping that one of the Japanese to win the race. Once again, as in the 1999 Fukuoka marathon, Japanese runners were not in contention when the real racing started. The best finish by a Japanese was Takayuki Inubushi's fourth place finish in 2:08:16. He was under great pressure before the race, because he was a national record holder running his first marathon since his record run. Inubushi who handled the pressure well, said "I missed my bottle at the crucial point in the race, and had to take a plain water. When I drank plain water, I had problem with side stitch. But I was happy with my performance, even more so then after Berlin marathon when I set a national record." Making an Olympic team was a goal of both Inubushi and his coach Tadasu Kawano ever since Inubushi joined Otsuka Pharmaceutical track team in 1991. Now it most likely became reality, but all must wait till the fourth and final Olympic qualifying race which will be Lake Biwa marathon on March 5.

Leading Results
Cloudy, 10.3C, 32% humididy, wind East North East 1.8m/s

1) Japhet Kosgei (KEN) 2:07:15
2) Lee Bong-ju (KOR) 2:07:20
3) Alberto Juzdado (ESP) 2:08:08
4) Takayuki Inubushi (JPN) 2:08:16
5) Baek Seung-do (KOR) 2:08:49
6) Hiroshi Miki (JPN) 2:09:30
7) Steve Moneghetti (AUS) 2:10:00
8) Koji Shimizu (JPN) 2:10:41

Distance Time
5Km 15:03
10Km 29:55 (14:52)
15Km 45:00 (15:05)
20Km 1:00:01 (15:01)
Half Marathon 1:03:20
25Km 1:15:04 (15:03)
30Km 1:30:21 (15:17)
35Km 1:45:30 (15:09)
40Km 2:00:44 (15:14)
42.195Km 2:07:15 (6:31)