The 62nd Lake Biwa Marathon on Sunday 4 March, is the final selection race to select the Japanese marathon team for the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, Japan, and will be held on a course that starts and finishes at Ojiyama stadium in Otsu, a city by the Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.
As with the other national selection races, the first Japanese home in the race will be automatically selected for the marathon team provided he breaks 2:09:30.
Five sub 2:09 marathon runners from abroad and five sub 2:10 domestic runners have been invited to the Sunday’s race.
Kiplagat’s 2:06:50 makes him the fastest of the entrants
The fastest runner in the field is Kenyan William Kiplagat, who has a personal best of 2:06:50, recorded at the 1999 Amsterdam marathon. He also won the 2003 Rotterdam marathon with 2:07:42 and 2005 Seoul race with 2:08:27. However, in his most recent marathon, the 2006 Boston marathon, Kiplagat was only 8th with 2:13:26.
The biggest challenger to Kiplagat is the two-time Lake Biwa Marathon champion Jose Rios of Spain, who returns to defend his title. Although his record at championships is far from impressive, having finished only 27th at the 2004 Olympics and dropped out of the 2005 World Championship, Rios’ record at the Lake Biwa marathon is quite the reverse. He won the 2004 edition with 2:07:42 and the 2006 race with 2:09:15. He also finished second in 2005 with 2:09:03.
The reigning Commonwealth Games champion Samson Ramadahni of Tanzania is also in the field. Ramadahni recorded his personal best, 2:08:01, at the 2003 London Marathon, and was fifth in the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. He has run a marathon in Japan before, having won the 2003 Beppu-Oita marathon in 2:09:24.
Ambesse Tolossa of Ethiopia used to run for a Japanese corporate track team and has recorded a few marathon wins in Japan, winning the 1998 Hokkaido Marathon with 2:10:13 and the 2006 Tokyo Marathon with 2:08:58. Tolossa was 15th at the 2004 Olympics and 19th at the 2005 World Championships, and won the 2006 Honolulu marathon recently. The other foreign 2:08 runners in the field is Kamiel Maase of Holland, who has a personal best of 2:08:31 from the 2003 Amsterdam marathon. Maase was 16th in the 2004 Olympic Games and more recently was 10th in the 2006 Rotterdam Marathon with 2:10:45.
The domestic challengers
The three domestic 2:08 runners entered are the Ojima brothers (Tadayuki & Muneyuki) and Kazutoshi Takatsuka. Tadayuki Ojima, with the personal best of 2:08:18, is the fastest of the Japanesein the field, and was superb in 2003 and 2004 recording 2:08:48 in the 2003 Fukuoka Marathon, and coming second in the 2004 Lake Biwa Marathon with 2:08:18. His older brother, Muneyuki, had his best years in 1998 and 1999, as after recording a personal best of 2:08:43 in the 1998 Lake Biwa Marathon, and 2:09:50 in the 1998 Fukuoka Marathon, the produced 2:08:46 in the 1999 Rotterdam Marathon, and 2:09:09 in the 1999 Fukuoka Marathon.
However, for the last several years the Ojima brothers have not run well. Muneyuki’s last marathon was at the 2006 Lake Biwa event, where he was sixth with 2:12:28, while Tadayuki’s last marathon was at the 2005 Beppu-Oita race where he was 7th in 2:13:26.
Another 2:08 runner is Takatsuka, who was fifth at the 2004 Lake Biwa Marathon with 2:08:56, however, this is his only sub 2:13 marathon.
Three other runners to look out for who have also had just one superb marathon in their careers are Kurao Umeki, Takashi Tokunaga and Toshihiro Iwasa. For Umeki his moment of glory was at the 2003 Berlin marathon where he was seventh in 2:09:52, for Takashi Tokunaga it was the 2005 Lake Biwa marathon where he was sixth with 2:10:10, and for Toshihiro Iwasa, it was the 2:10:17 marathon he recorded at the 2003 Lake Biwa marathon.
Shin-ichi Watanabe, on the other hand, has broken a 2:10 barrier twice, running 2:09:55 in the 2004 Lake Biwa Marathon and then improving his personal best to 2:09:32 in the 2004 Berlin marathon.
Two marathon rookies – Tomoo Tsubota and Tomohiro Seto – are also to be watched.
Tsubota is one of the best distance runners in Japan. He has a half marathon best of 1:01:16 from 2002 and the 10,000m track best of 27:51.85 from the same year. He ran the 10,000m in the 2003 World Championships, finishing 18th, and has a 30Km road race best of 1:29:34.
Seto has a half marathon best of 1:01:49 from 2004 and like Tsubota has ran an excellent 30Km road race, winning the Kumanichi 30Km in 1:29:50. However, both have been lacking form lately with Tsubota’s best 10,000m in 2006 being 28:25.29, while Seto (PB 28:00.29) ran 28:48.84 last year.
Osaka selection battle so far
So far only Wataru Okutani, who was the first Japanese in the 2006 Fukuoka Marathon with 2:08:49, has been automatically selected for the 2007 World Championships. Of the other Japanese top finishers in the previous selection races, only Toshinari Suwa, who was the second Japanese in the Fukuoka Marathon with 2:08:52, has a good chance to be selected, as the others are far from the qualification standard. For instance, the third Japanese in the Fukuoka marathon was Tsuyoshi Ogata with the time of 2:10:48, while the first Japanese in the Tokyo Marathon, Tomoyuki Sato, run only 2:11:22.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Invited Runners for Lake Biwa Marathon
Jose Rios (ESP) 2:07:42 - 2004 Lake Biwa
William Kiplagat (KEN) 2:06:50 - 1999 Amsterdam
Samson Ramadhani (TAN) 2:08:01 - 2003 London
Kamiel Maase (NED) 2:08:31 - 2003 Amsterdam
Ambesse Tolossa (ETH) 2:08:56 - 2004 Paris
Helder Ornelas (POR) 2:09:59 - 2005 Milan
Dmitry Semenov (RUS) 2:12:37 - 2006 Hamburg
Tadayuki Ojima 2:08:18 - 2004 Lake Biwa
Muneyuki Ojima 2:08:43 - 1998 Lake Biwa
Kazutoshi Takatsuka 2:08:56 - 2004 Lake Biwa
Shin-ichi Watanabe 2:09:32 - 2004 Berlin
Kurao Umeki 2:09:52 - 2003 Berlin
Takashi Tokunaga 2:10:10 - 2005 Lake Biwa
Toshihiro Iwasa 2:10:17 - 2003 Lake Biwa
Ken-ichi Kita 2:11:41 - 2006 Nobeoka
Tomoo Tsubota debut
Tomohiro Seto debut