The 49th annual Sapporo Half Marathon, which doubles as a Japanese selection race for the IAAF World Road Running Championships, Debrecen, Hungary (8 October), will be held in Sapporo, Japan on Sunday 9 July.
The men ‘s race in Sapporo was first run in 1958m and for the first sixteen years was contested over the marathon distance. Then from 1974 to 1986, it was a 30Km road race. The women’s race started in 1980 as a 20Km road race, and from 1986, both races were contested over the half marathon distance.
The main attractions of the race are Japan's Mizuki Noguchi, the 2004 Olympic Marathon champion and Kenya's Catherine Ndereba, the 2003 World Championships Marathon gold medallist.
Ndereba, also the 2004 Olympic and 2005 World Championships silver medalist, is the three-time defending champion in having won in 2002, 2003 and 2005, and is course record holder, having run 1:08:23 in 2003. She also ran 1:08:57 in 2002 and 1:09:24 in 2005.
Noguchi on the other hand has yet to win in Sapporo. She was third in 2005 with 1:09:46, second in 2001 with 1:09:51 and second in 1999 with 1:10:01. Noguchi, silver medallist at the 2003 World Championships Marathon, at the her best at the Marugame Half Marathon in February recorded 1:07:43, which is faster than Ndereba’s half marathon personal best, 1:07:54 from 2001.
Other top female runners in the field are: Yumiko Hara, who was sixth at the 2005 World Championships marathon, Hiromi Ominami, who won the 2004 Sapporo International Half marathon, Tomo Morimoto, who won the 2006 Wien Marathon in 2:24:33, and Yasuko Hashimoto, who won the 2003 Berlin marathon. Hashimoto has a half marathon best of 1:08:55 from the 2001 Kobe Half Marathon, while Ominami has the best of 1:08:45 recorded in 2004 in Sapporo and Hara has a personal best of 1:09:37, recorded when she finished second in the 2003 Sapporo half marathon.
Ongori Philes, a Kenyan based in Sapporo, may surprise everyone. In her only half marathon of her career, Philes won the 2006 Matsue Ladies Half Marathon in 1:11:18.
Two other runners, besides Ndereba won this race three-times, both are men. Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania won from 1988 to 1990 while Stephen Mayaka of Kenya won from 1995 to 1997.
Although the men’s race lacks big foreign names, some of the best Japanese marathon runners will be running in Sapporo. In fact the entire Japanese Olympic Marathon team – Shigeru Aburaya, Toshinari Suwa and Tomoaki Kunichika – as well as three of the five team members at the World Championships in Helsinki – Tsuyoshi Ogata, Wataru Okutani and Michitaka Hosokawa – have entered the race.
In Athens, Aburaya was fifth while Suwa finished respectable sixth, but Kunichika was only 42nd. Aburaya, who was also fifth at both the 2001 and 2003 World Championships, has the marathon best of 2:07:52 and the half marathon best of 1:01:54, recorded in 2002. He was 13th in the 2004 Sapporo Half marathon with 1:02:31. Suwa, who has the marathon best of 2:07:55, has the half marathon best of 1:02:36 from 1998, while Kunichika, who won the 2003 Fukuoka Marathon with 2:07:52, has a half marathon best of 1:02:14 from 2001.
Tsuyoshi Ogata, Helsinki bronze medallist, has the marathon best of 2:08:37 and the half marathon best of 1:01:50 from 2002. He was also sixth in the 2004 Sapporo Half Marathon. Okutani, who was 14th in Helsinki, has the marathon best of 2:09:13 and the half marathon best of 1:02:55. He was also 9th in the 2003 Sapporo Half Marathon. Hosokawa, who was 48th in Helsinki, has the marathon best of 2:09:10 and the half marathon best of 1:03:10.
Other notable runners are: Satoshi Osaki, who has the marathon best of 2:08:46 and Yukinobu Nakazaki, who has the marathon best of 2:09:28.
Both Aburaya and Ogata ran in the 2006 London Marathon, but their results – 13th for Aburaya and 26th for Ogata - were far from satisfactory. Sapporo will be their chance to redeem themselves.
Nineteen years old Mekubo Mogusu, a Kenyan who attends Yamanashi Gakuen University in Japan, is the defending champion, having won the 2005 edition of the race in 1:01:28.
Two other Africans living in Japan are invited. They are Girma Assefa of Ethiopia, who finished second in the last two editions of the Sapporo Half Marathon and Simon Maina, a Kenya who was third in 2004. Girma and Maina have half marathon best of 1:01:34 and 1:00:48 respectively. A Kenyans living in Japan has won the Sapporo Half Marathon for the last eleven years, and the African won the race in the last thirteen years. With the strong Japanese field, the Japanese may win the race for the first time since 1992.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Mekubo Mogusu (KEN)
Girma Assefa (ETH)
Simon Maina (KEN)
Catherine Ndereba (KEN)
Mara Yamauchi (GBR)
Ongori Philes (KEN)