Josphat Ndambiri, a sub-27 minutes 10,000m runner who was fifth at the 2007 World Championships, won the Fukuoka Marathon in his debut on Sunday, clocking 2:07:36.
Although his original plan was to make his move after 30Km at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race, he broke the race open and ran away from the field by running 25 to 30Km in 14:32, the fastest that 5Km segment has ever been run in Fukuoka.
“Nobody took over the lead when the pace makers were gone at 25Km, so I just went for it,” Ndambiri said. Although he was ahead of Samuel Wanjiru’s all-comers’ debut record pace at 35Km (1:44:39 for Ndambiri today versus 1:44:49 for Wanjiru when he ran 2:06:39 in Fukuoka 2007, the fastest debut Marathon on Japanese soil) the fast 5Km between 25 to 30Km may have cost him a faster time in 2:06 range.
“This is my first Marathon, so I was not sure how to run the race,” he said. Like Wanjiru before him, Ndambiri runs for a Japanese Corporate sponsored team (Kormori Corporation in his case) after graduating from school in Japan. “I ran this Marathon in hope that I make the Kenyan Olympic team. My plan now is to run one of the spring marathon - London, Rotterdam, Paris or Boston.”
Another Kenyan living in Japan, James Mwangi finished second with 2:08:38, however, TV rarely showed him running, concentrating on the race for the first Japanese.
Kawauchi, the first Japanese
As for the all important race to make the Japanese Olympic team, Yuki Kawauchi, who fell behind the leader early, came back later in the race to finish third with 2:09:57. Kawauchi fell behind the lead pack just before the half marathon mark and bided his time behind Dmitriy Safronov for the next several kilometres. Then after 30Km Safronov and Kawauchi started to pick off the fading runners. After 35Km, Kawauchi left Safronov behind and started to chase after Masato Imai and Kazuhiro Maeda, who were battling for the spot of top Japanese in the race. At 36.5Km Kawauchi finally caught Imai and Maeda. Then for the next 2Km, the battle for the first Japanese intensified between Imai and Kawauchi while Maeda was left behind. Kawauchi and Imai took turns in their attempt to break away from each other. Kawauchi made what seemed to be the decisive move at 38.5Km aid station.
“I learned in the World Championships that increasing the pace at the water station is an effective way to break away from the competitions. When the pace was increased at the water station in the World Championships, I really felt its effect; so I thought I would employ this tactics here in Fukuoka and it worked,” Kawauchi said. But then Imai worked his way back by 39.5Km, to which Kawauchi surged again to leave Imai behind for good.
Although the Japan AAF was quite impressed with Kawauchi’s gutsy run, his time was not exactly what the JAAF were looking for in the Olympic qualifying race. “After the pace maker left the race, while Ndambiri sped up, the Japanese all slowed down and no Japanese ran close to 15 minutes in any of the subsequent 5Km segments,” said Sakaguchi, the head of men’s marathon department in JAAF. Kawauchi admitted that he was not in very good form for Fukuoka with February’s Tokyo Marathon, another Olympic qualifying race, his primary goal. For Kawauchi, Fukuoka was just a warm up race for a better performance in Tokyo. For the first Japanese in one of the domestic Olympic qualifying race, running another Olympic qualifying race later in the calendar, is unheard of. But then, Kawauchi is a unique runner who breaks all the rules but getting better at every race.
How the race unfolded:
The lead pack of 23 runners (plus pacers) passed the first 5Km in 15:05. The 10Km split was 30:06, and 15Km split was 45:04. All the major contenders were in the lead pack at this point but then Tsuyoshi Ogata, the 2005 World Championships bronze medalist became one of the first contenders to lose contact. Chiaharu Takada was the next to drift off the leaders. An increasing number of runners started to have problem with the fast pace. First, just before the half marathon mark Yuki Kawauchi, along with Dmitriy Safronov started to fall back. Satoshi Irifune and Tomoyuki Sato also fell behind.
Three pace makers left the race at 25Km (1:15:10) leaving six – Baranovskyy, Cragg, Mwangi, Ndambiri, Imai, Maeda – in the lead. Ndambiri started to pull away and only Mwangi made an attempt to follow. Cragg, Imai, and Maeda were joined by Okamoto, who fell behind once but worked his way back to the pack. Baranovskyy seemed to be struggling and soon Cragg also could not keep pace with the chase pack.
Ndambiri covered 5Km between 25Km and 30Km in 14:32, the fastest split in Fukuoka for 25 to 30Km (The previous fastest was the 14:49 Tsegaye Kebede ran in 2009 for this 5Km segment.) Mwangi was alone in second, while Maeda and Imai vying for the Olympic team slot are running together, but by 30Km they were over one minute behind Ndambiri. Okamoto was also out of it.
Meanwhile, at 32.3Km Safronov and Kawauchi passed fading Baranovskyy. At 32.6Km they also passed Okamoto. Further ahead Maeda and Imai were slowing down. At 33Km the gap between Imai, Maeda and Safronov and Kawauchi was 18 seconds. Up front Ndambiri covered 30 to 35Km in 14:58. Passing 35Km Kawauchi broke away from Safronov and started to chase two Japanese (Imai and Maeda) in front. Passing 36.5Km Kawauchi passed both Imai and Maeda to move into third. Kawauchi made several attempt to break away from Imai, but Imai worked his way back each time. Finally at the 38.5Km aid station, Kawauchi made his decisive move. Imai tried to stay close but Maeda was completely left behind. At 39.5Km Imai caught up with Kawauchi. But then Kawauchi pushed the pace again and the race for the first Japanese was over.
Up front Ndambiri slowed dramatically after 35Km. He took 15:45 for the 5Km between 35 to 40Km, and running 2:06 was no longer possible.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Weather: Partly Cloudy; Temperature: 13.7C; Humidity: 49%; Wind: 2.4m/s West
1) Josphat Ndambiri (KEN) 2:07:36
2) James Mwangi (KEN) 2:08:38
3) Yuki Kawauchi 2:09:57
4) Masato Imai 2:10:32
5) Dmitri Safronov (RUS) 2:11:29
6) Kazuhiro Maeda 2:11:46
7) Dmytro Baranovsky (UKR) 2:12:08
8) Martin Dent (AUS) 2:12:23
9) Ridouane Harrouji (MAR) 2:13:40
10) Alexey Sokolov (RUS) 2:14:00
5Km - 15:05 - Ndambiri
10Km - 30:06 (15:01) - Baranovskyy
15Km - 45:04 (14:58) - Baranovskyy
20Km - 1:00:11 (15:07) - Baranovskyy
Half - 1:03:29 - Ndambiri
25Km - 1:15:10 (14:59) - Ndambiri
30Km - 1:29:42 (14:32) - Ndambiri
35Km - 1:44:39 (14:58) - Ndamibiri
40Km - 2:00:24 (15:45) - Ndambiri
Finish - 2:07:36 (7:12) - Ndambiri