Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain crosses the finish line (Masamichi Makino) © Copyright
Preview Marugame, Japan

Kirwa vs Flanagan the focus in Marugame

Defending Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon champion and Olympic marathon silver medallist Eunice Jepkirui will take on USA’s 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist Shalane Flanagan at the IAAF Silver Label Road Race on Sunday (5).

Kirwa is one of the best marathon runners in the world. Before taking the Olympic silver medal in Rio last year, the Bahraini earned bronze at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 and gold at the 2014 Asian Games.

But she is also a superb half marathon runner. She has won her past five outings over the distance, including last year’s Marugame Half Marathon and the Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon, and has only one finished outside the top two in all 20 of her half marathons to date.

Flanagan will be Kirwa’s main competition in Marugame this weekend. The 35-year-old finished ninth in the marathon at the 2012 Olympics and sixth in Rio last year. Flanagan’s half marathon PB of 1:07:51 is 15 seconds faster than Kirwa’s, but the latter may cope better in the heat.

Eloise Wellings was third in Marugame last year, setting a personal best of 1:09:29. The Australian, who set a 10,000m PB of 31:14.94 to finish 10th in last year’s Olympic final, will be looking to rebound from two recent disappointing showings, having finished fourth over 10,000m in Melbourne followed by a DNF at the Okayama Half Marathon.

USA’s Amy Cragg, who finished just three places behind Flanagan in the marathon at the Olympic Games last year, is also in the field. After beating Flanagan in the Olympic Trials marathon last year, Cragg went on to set PBs of 31:31 for 10km and 1:09:50 for the half marathon.

Reia Iwade is the fastest of the Japanese entrants, but Riko Matsuzaki, who has faster track PBs than Iwade, looks set for a strong half-marathon debut.

Kipkemoi faces returning Tsegay

He is among the top 15 men of all time at the distance, but Kenneth Kipkemoi is yet to win a half marathon.

The Kenyan has a best of 59:01 and has five other sub-60-minute performances to his name. He is also the 2012 African 10,000m champion and has a PB of 26:52.65 at that distance. Now, in his first race in Japan, Kipkemoi will be seeking his first half marathon victory.

With a best of 58:47, Atsedu Tsegay is the fastest man on the entry list. But the Ethiopian record-holder hasn’t raced since his 1:02:39 clocking in Lisbon in October 2015, so there is something of a question mark over his form going into this weekend’s race.

If Tsegay isn’t near his best, Kipkemoi’s toughest competition could come from compatriots Abraham Kipyatich and Bernard Kimani. Both will be keen to finish within 60 minutes, having come close to that barrier in recent years with respective PBs of 1:00:03 and 1:00:05.

Britain’s Callum Hawkins also won’t be short of motivation. He won the Great Scottish Run in October in 1:00:24 but he only recently discovered that the time won’t count as a PB as the course was 150 metres short. Having finished third at the European Cross Country Championships in December and second at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country in January, the 24-year-old is clearly in the form of his life.

Dominic Nyairo and Fabiano Sulle, second and fourth respectively at last year’s Marugame Half Marathon, will return for this year’s race with the aim of improving on their performance from 12 months ago.

Among the 25 invited domestic runners, six stand out: national 5000m record-holder Suguru Osako, national 10,000m record-holder Kota Murayama, Chihiro Miyawaki, Kenta Murayama, Keita Shitara, and Daichi Kamino. All six men are 25 years old or younger and are considered genuine hopes for the 2020 Olympic Games.

Osako set the national 5000m record of 13:08.40 in 2015 and finished 17th in the 10,000m at last year’s Olympic Games. His last half marathon was back in 2010 when he set a national U20 record of 1:01:47. Since then, he has improved his PBs at all other distances, so it would be fair to expect him to set another PB on Sunday.

Murayama, who set the national 10,000m record of 27:29.69 in 2015, finished second at the 2014 Marugame Half Marathon with 1:00:50.

Miyawaki, Shitara and Kamino all boast PBs that suggest they could challenge for a top-five finish, while Japanese fans will be hoping that at least one of them makes a big breakthrough on Sunday.

The Japanese half marathon record of 1:00:25 has stood to Atsushi Sato for nearly 10 years. It has withstood several challenges in recent years – including Masato Kikuchi’s 60:32 in 2015 – but an improvement on the record is long overdue.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Elite fields

Men
Atsedu Tsegay (ETH) 58:47
Kenneth Kipkemoi (KEN) 59:01
Abraham Kipyatich (KEN) 1:00:03
Bernard Kimani (KEN) 1:00:05
Callum Hawkins (GBR) 1:00:24
Dominic Nyairo (KEN) 1:00:50
Kenta Murayama (JPN) 1:00:50
Chihiro Miyawaki (JPN) 1:00:53
Keita Shitara (JPN) 1:01:12
Fabiano Sulle (TAN) 1:01:19
Daichi Kamino (JPN) 1:01:21
Suguru Osako (JPN) 1:01:47
Ryo Yamamoto (JPN) 1:01:54
Kota Murayama (JPN) debut
Kazuya Shiojiri (JPN) debut

Women
Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa (BRN) 1:08:06
Shalane Flanagan (USA) 1:07:51
Eloise Wellings (AUS) 1:09:26
Reia Iwade (JPN) 1:09:45
Amy Cragg (USA) 1:09:50
Winfridah Kebaso (KEN) 1:09:59
Eri Hayakawa (JPN) 1:10:13
Kaho Tanaka (JPN) 1:11:12
Kellys Arias (COL) 1:11:21
Moeno Nakamura (JPN) 1:11:33
Miharu Shimokado (JPN) 1:11:48
Riko Matsuzaki (JPN) debut