Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia returns to regain the title he won in 2016 at the 72nd Fukuoka Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (2).
Two years ago, Tsegay stopped Patrick Makau from winning a third straight title at this race. Last year he finished a distant 26th in 2:18:05, slowed by a sudden back problem that hit him after five kilometres. In May he won the Ottawa Marathon with 2:08:52, has a personal best of 2:04:48 set in Rotterdam in 2012 and took silver at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. He trains with this year’s Chicago Marathon runner-up Mosinet Geremew and Shanghai winner Seifu Tura, boding well.
The man who beat Tsegay in Beijing, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, is also in the race. Ghebreslassie was fourth at the 2016 Olympic Games and won the New York City Marathon later that year. He set his personal best of 2:07:46 earlier that year, at the London Marathon. However, he’s failed to finish the last three marathons he started: New York, Dubai and London. He said he was hampered by injury in 2017 and early 2018, but is back on track now. “My training after London is going well,” he said.
Vincent Kipruto, the runner-up at the 2011 World Championships, is also in the field. His best of 2:05:13 dates back to the 2010 Rotterdam Marathon, but more recently clocked 2:06:14 at the 2017 Berlin Marathon.
Amanuel Mesel of Eritrea has run well here in the past, finishing fifth at both the 2016 and 2017 editions of the race.
Although not an invited runner, Brett Robinson of Australia, a pace maker last year, is said to be in strong shape and ready for a fast performance in his debut over the distance. Unfortunately, Callum Hawkins of Great Britain, fourth in the 2017 World Championships, was forced to pull out with injury.
Domestic battle for Olympic team trials qualification
Like next week’s Saitama Marathon, the Fukuoka Marathon is also one of the qualifying races for the Tokyo Olympics Marathon team trials, which is scheduled for 15 September. In order to qualify for the Olympic trials, runners must finish among the top three Japanese with a time under 2:11. Runners can also qualify by running under 2:10 provided he finishes in the top six among Japanese.
The best among the local entries is Yuta Shitara, the national record holder at the half marathon and until recently, the record holder at the marathon, a feat which earned him 100 million yen (nearly USD 900,000) when he broke the national mark with a 2:06:11 run in Tokyo last February. His mark was broken by Suguru Osako who clocked 2:05:50 in Chicago last month. That bonus offer remains.
“I have prepared myself well to win,” Shitara said a press conference today. “I am not going after fast time. I will do that next March in Tokyo. Fukuoka course is tougher than that of Tokyo. So getting another national record will be tough.”
Shitara suffered a stress fracture after Tokyo, which slowed his training. But he is slowly rounding into shape, finishing fourth recently at the Ageo Half Marathon in 1:01:59.
Although not an invited runner, Daichi Kamino’s big breakthrough is eagerly anticipated. Kamino, who is well known for his magnificent run in the mountain climb stage of the Collegiate Ekiden, made his debut here last year and finished 13th with 2:12:50. He improved his personal best to 2:10:18 in the Tokyo Marathon last February, but then dropped out of the Berlin Marathon. His most recent race was Ageo half marathon where he was seventh with 1:02:19.
Of course, the Fukuoka Marathon wouldn’t be complete without Yuki Kawauchi, the defending Boston Marathon champion. Kawauchi has run here eight times, his best a third place showing in 2013 with 2:09:05. Last year, he was ninth with 2:10:53. Kawauchi has run ten marathons this year, most recently 2:27:43 in Venice on 28 October and three weeks prior to that in Chicago where he was a distant 19th with 2:16:26. Kawauchi said hot conditions over the summer set his training back.
“It was very hot in Saitama in the summer, 33C was norm at 9pm,” he said, “thus my fall races really suffered. Since then my training started to go well.” He clocked 1:02:49 at the Ageo Half Marathon on 18 November, just 31 seconds shy of his half marathon best.
Other domestic invited runners include Kentaro Nakamoto with a best of 2:08:35, Satoru Sasaki, who’s clocked 2:08:56, 2:08:59 runner Takuya Noguchi and Hayato Sonoda who has a best of 2:09:34.
A Japanese runner hasn’t won this race since Tsuyoshi Ogata’s triumph in 2004. Unseasonably warm weather (exceeding 20C) is expected on Sunday.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF