The three most recent winners of the Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon will clash on Sunday (22), but the biggest attraction of the IAAF Gold Label road race will be the participation of Yuki Kawauchi.
Earlier this week Kawauchi became the first Japanese runner to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years. In a gripping race held in harsh conditions, Kawauchi put in numerous surges with his final effort proving decisive. He crossed the finish line in 2:15:58 to beat world champion Geoffrey Kirui by more than two minutes.
It was Kawauchi’s fifth consecutive marathon victory – all of which have been achieved in a four-month time span – but his record at the half marathon isn’t quite as strong. He has contested the Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon on five previous occasions but is yet to finish inside the top 10.
But his performance on Monday once again showed that distance-running fans should always expect the unexpected from Kawauchi.
The 31-year-old currently works 40 hours a week as a civil servant, but he recently announced that he will leave his job and turn professional next year.
“I need to change my environment (to move up to another level),” he said. “I have not improved my personal best for five years. I want to see my true potential as a runner. I am determined to compete against the best in the world.”
Defending champion Alexander Mutiso, 2016 winner Patrick Mwaka and 2015 champion James Rungaru will face two other men with sub-60-minute PBs – James Mwangi and Moses Kurong – in their quest to achieve the first sub-hour clocking in Gifu. It would also break the 1:00:02 course record set in 2014 by Bedan Karoki.
Of the top contenders, Rungaru appears to be carrying the best form heading into Gifu. The Kenyan recorded his half marathon best of 59:37 in this year’s City Pier City Half Marathon in Den Haag. The 2016 African cross-country champion will at least want to do better than his 2016 and 2017 appearances in Gifu, having finished sixth and 11th respectively on those occasions.
Mutiso is also in good form, having clocked a personal best of 1:00:31 in Lisbon last month.
Mwaka, who won in Gifu in 2016 with 1:01:51, set a season’s best of 1:02:07 at the Japanese Corporate Team Half Marathon Championships in Yamaguchi in February. His season’s bests from the past six successive years have all been set in Gifu, so he will want to at least keep that streak alive.
Mwangi, who recorded a half marathon best of 59:07 in Copenhagen in 2016, has contested two half marathons this year, finishing 11th in Ras al-Khaimah in 1:00:50 and eighth in Lisbon with 1:00:49.
Kurong recorded his PB of 59:50 in Copenhagen last year. After recording a season’s best of 1:00:10 in Barcelona in February, the Ugandan finished 35th at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships Valencia 2018 in 1:02:27.
Two other runners in the field have also recorded PBs this year. Edward Waweru won the Marugame Half Marathon with 1:00:31 in February while Nicholas Kosimbei ran 1:00:21 in Lisbon.
The women’s race looks set to be just as competitive as the top three contenders have all set personal bests in the past year.
Three fastest invited runners on the women’s side are Eunice Chumba, Degitu Azmeraw and Valary Jemeli Aiyabei.
Eunice Chumba recorded an Asian record of 1:06:11 in Copenhagen last year. More recently, she finished fourth at the World Half Marathon Championships in 1:07:17 and led Bahrain to the team bronze medal.
Degitu Azmeraw clocked one of the fastest half marathon debuts in history when finishing sixth in Ras al-Khaimah earlier this year in 1:06:47. This weekend the young Ethiopian will be contesting her first race since that performance.
Kenya’s Valary Jemeli Aiyabei, who finished second at this year’s Nagoya Women’s Marathon, recorded her personal best of 1:07:50 in Prague last year.
This weekend’s race will be the eighth edition of the event which is also known as the Naoko Takahashi Cup, as Gifu is the hometown of 2000 Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashi.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
James Mwangi (KEN) 59:07
James Rungaru (KEN) 59:37
Moses Kurong (UGA) 59:50
Nicholas Kosimbei (KEN) 1:00:21
Alexander Mutiso (KEN) 1:00:31
Edward Waweru (KEN) 1:00:31
Joel Mwaura (KEN) 1:00:59
Shota Hattori (JPN) 1:01:25
Patrick Muendo Mwaka (KEN) 1:01:51
Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 1:02:18
Suehiro Ishikawa (JPN) 1:02:23
Michael Githae (KEN) 1:02:27
Desmond Mokgobu (RSA) 1:02:29
Eunice Chumba (BRN) 1:06:11
Degitu Azmeraw (ETH) 1:06:47
Valary Jemeli Aiyabei (KEN) 1:07:50
Joy Kemuma Loyce (KEN) 1:09:02
Karoline Nadolska (POL) 1:09:54
Ftaw Zeray (ETH) 1:10:31
Sinead Diver (AUS) 1:11:40