Wilson Kipsang returns to defend his title at the 12th edition of the Tokyo Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (25). Former winners Birhane Dibaba from Ethiopia and Kenyan Helah Kiprop lead the women's field.
Kipsang, a former world record holder, experienced mixed fortunes after his 2017 victory in Tokyo, dropping out of Berlin in September but bouncing back to finish second at the New York City Marathon in November. Already the course record holder in Tokyo, he’s aiming to better that on Sunday. His goal? 2:02:50.
“My main aim is the world record,” said Kipsang, whose personal best is 2:13:13 set in 2016. “If the temperature and weather is ideal, then I will push the second half.”
Last year he reached the midway point in 1:01:22, a pace he said was too ambitious.
“It was little bit too fast. I want to go through the half marathon point in 61:40 this year, and then pick up the pace from there.”
Kipsang’s main competitors are Ethiopian Tsegaye Mekonnen, who has a 2:04:32 best from the 2014 Dubai Marathon, his compatriot Feyisa Lilesa, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, and Kenyan Dickson Chumba, whose 2:04:32 personal best was set in the 2014 Chicago Marathon. Chumba won in Tokyo that year and has finished third in each subsequent edition. He’s also looking for a fast time as well as another podium finish.
“I need to run 2:04, not 2:05,” he said.
Following a third place finish at the 2011 World Championships, Feyisa won in Tokyo in 2016, the first major victory of his career. He has a 2:04:52 best from the 2012 Chicago Marathon, but hasn’t broken 2:10 since the Rio Olympic Games.
“I am hoping that this year’s Tokyo Marathon will change my fortune, just like the 2016 Tokyo Marathon did,” he said. Mekonnen is hoping to improve his personal best and perhaps crack 2:04.
Other contenders include Kenyan Vincent Kipruto, who was third at the 2010 Rotterdam Marathon in 2:05:13; Gideon Kipketer, who was fifth at the 2017 World Championships; and Amos Kipruto, who was fifth in the 2017 Amsterdam Marathon with 2:05:43.
Vincent Kipruto, who was also fifth at the Berlin Marathon last year with 2:06:14, has contested the Lake Biwa Marathon three times and finished on the podium each time so Like Chumba, runs well in Japan. Kipketer meanwhile second in Tokyo last year with the personal best of 2:05:51. For Amos Kipruto, Tokyo marks his first major marathon appearance.
Yuta Shitara leads the domestic entrants. Shitara, who clocked a 1:00:17 national half marathon record in 2017, has run two marathons so far in his career, 2:09:27 in Tokyo and 2:09:03 in Berlin, both last year. Shitara has been on a roll recently. He recorded stages bests in both the New Year Ekiden as well as Inter-Prefectural Ekiden and won the Kosa 10 miler as well as the Karatsu 10 miler. Said the 26-year-old: “I am determined to run under 2:09. If I stay with the leaders, the fast time will come.”
Other Japanese contenders include Hiroto Inoue and Hiroyuki Yamamoto, eighth and tenth here last year in 2:08:22 and 2:09:12, respectively. Inoue is confident. “My goal for Sunday is a 2:06 marathon. I am determined to be a world class runner someday.”
Dibaba and Kiprop chasing second titles
The women’s field includes three women with sub-2:21 credentials and two more with sub-2:22 bests. The fastest is Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga, who was second in Berlin last September in 2:20:41. Trailing closely on paper are Purity Rionoripo, who won 2017 Paris Marathon in 2:20:55 and Shure Demise, who was fourth in the 2015 Dubai Marathon in 2:20:59.
Ethiopian Birhane Dibaba, who was second in Tokyo last year in 2:21:29 and Helah Kiprop, the 2016 winner in 2:21:27, are also expected in the mix.
Ruti said she’s determined to win the race with a new personal best under 2:20, or even under 2:19. By contrast, Rionoripo said she’s approaching the race with the more modest goals of improving her personal best with a podium finish. Demise is chasing a similar goal, but at minimum targeting to improve on her 2016 appearance here when she was sixth in 2:25:04.
For her part, Kiprop is hoping for a fast pace and to reclaim her title, this time in under 2:20. Dibaba is also targeting a personal best and has promised to push the pace.
Amy Cragg, the bronze medalist at last year’s World Championships, also has lofty ambitions. Although her best is a modest 2:27:03, she said, “For a long time, I knew I can run much faster than my personal best.” Her goal is 2:22:59.
Meseret Defar, who was to make her marathon debut here, has pulled out the race since she was announced in January.
In its 11-year history, no runner has won the Tokyo Marathon more than once. With six past winners in the field, that could change this year.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF