Sammy Korir (KEN) wins the 2006 Fortis Rotterdam Marathon (loc) © Copyright

Mass race makes first outing, and Osaka selection at stake in Tokyo Marathon – Preview

The new Tokyo Marathon will be held this Sunday 18 February 2007, and although the Tokyo Marathon has been in existence since 1981, this year it is a race of different character, as unlike the previous elite only editions, it will welcome a mass field of 25,000 runners who will be running on the streets of the Japanese capital.

Rotterdam marathon champion Sammy Korir of Kenya, the second fastest marathon runner of all-time (2:04:56), is the star name of the elite field.

Where the race once started and finished in the National stadium, the new course is a one-way route which starts in the front of the Tokyo governmental building and finishes at the Tokyo ‘Big Site’.  It goes by some of the well known sites of Tokyo, such as Imperial Palace and Ginza, which is Tokyo’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue. The start time will be 9:10AM with a 7 hour time limit for the race.
The race also doubles as a selection race for the Japanese marathon squad for the World Championships in Osaka.  The first Japanese home, provided he runs faster than 2:09:30, will automatically be selected for the marathon team.  Other top finishers in the race will be candidates for the marathon team members. 

Aburaya is the strongest of the home challengers

The best Japanese in the field is Shigeru Aburaya, who has the marathon best of 2:07:52, which was recorded in the 2001 Lake Biwa Marathon.  Although he has not approached this time recently his big championships record is unparalleled in Japan.  Aburaya has been fifth at the marathon in the three global championships in which he has taken part - 2004 Olympics, 2003 and 2001 World Championships.  More recently, in the Marugame half marathon on 4 February Aburaya was fifteenth in 1:02:46.  In his last marathon, the 2006 London Marathon, Aburaya was 13th with 2:14:49. 

The second fastest Japanese in the field is Tadayuki Ojima, whose personal best is 2:08:18 (2004 Lake Biwa Marathon), but since finishing seventh in the 2005 Beppu-Oita Marathon, Ojima has not completed a marathon.  However, he has run well in the shorter distances, and was the fifth fastest (46:50) in the 15.9Km fifth stage at the New Year’s Ekiden.  

A promising runner in the field is Satoshi Irifune, who has the marathon best of 2:09:58 from the 2005 Beppu-Oita marathon, and finished 20th at the marathon in the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.  He has a 10,000m best of 27:53.92 and finished 20th at 10,000m in the 1999 World Championships.  Last year, Irifune was fourth in Tokyo with 2:10:47 and then fourth at the marathon in the Asian Games in Doha. 

Other invited Japanese runners in the field are Yuichi Washio (2:11:05), Tomoyuki Sato (2:09:43), Takehisa Okino (2:12:24) and Yusuke Kataoka (2:13:09). 

Korir, Njenga, Isegwe, and of course De Lima are the foreign standouts

The fastest runner in the field is Sammy Korir of Kenya, who recorded the second fastest marathon in history, 2:04:56, in the 2003 Berlin Marathon.  Although he was only third at 2004 Fukuoka Marathon (2:11:45), ninth in both the 2006 London Marathon (2:12:36) and the 2006 Chicago Marathon (2:10:53), and third in the 2006 Tokyo marathon with 2:10:07, Korir finally cracked a 2:10 barrier again in 2006 by winning the 2006 Rotterdam marathon with 2:06:38. 

The second fastest runner in the field is Daniel Njenga, who has the marathon best of 2:06:16, recorded in the 2002 Chicago Marathon. One of the more consistent marathon runners in recent years, in the last four Chicago Marathons, Njenga was third in 2003 (2:07:41), second in 2004 (2:07:44), third in 2005 (2:07:14), and second in 2006 (2:07:40).  He also won the 2004 Tokyo marathon with 2:08:43. 

Olympic bronze medallist Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil, has a marathon best of 2:08:31 from the old Tokyo marathon course. Although he has not run a good marathon since the Olympics, in his last marathon (2006 Amsterdam marathon) de Lima was fifth with 2:11:36. 

The most intriguing runner in the field is Chris Isegwe of Tanzania, who was second at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.  Before Helsinki he had been second in the 2004 Beijing Marathon (2:10:56) and since Helsinki, he has not run a good marathon.  Isegwe dropped out of both the Commonwealth Games and London marathons last year.  More recently he was 17th in the 2006 New Delhi half marathon (66:41). 

Of the other elite runners lining up on Sunday there is Getuli Bayo of Tanzania who has a marathon best of 2:10:45 (2005 Zurich Marathon).  More recently, Bayo was third at the 2006 Amsterdam Marathon with 2:10:47, and second in the 2006 Hofu marathon with 2:15:44 in December. 

Two marathon debutantes are attracting attention.  First, James Mwangi, a Kenyan living in Japan and who runs for NTN team, and has a half marathon best of 1:00:42.  Second, Kazuyoshi Tokumoto, a versatile runner who excels from 1500m to 10,000m, who has bests of 3:40.40 (1500m), 13:26.19 (5000m) and 28:13.23 (10,000m).  He was fifth at 5000m and third at 10,000m in the 2001 World University Games. 

Finally, several great runners from the past including Kenji Kimihara, 1968 Olympic silver medalist, Yuko Arimori, two-time Olympic medalist, Sachiko Yamashita, silver medalist at 1991 World Championships, and Ari Ichihashi, silver medalist at 1999 World Championships, will be special guests at the race.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

List of invited runners:

Name/Personal Best/Venue

Sammy Korir (KEN)            2:04:56        2003 Berlin
Daniel Njenga (KEN)           2:06:16        2002 Chicago
Vanderlei de Lima (BRA)     2:08:31        1998 Tokyo
Chris Isegwe (TAN)             2:10:21        2005 World Champ
Getuli Bayo (TAN)              2:10:45         2005 Zurich
Vladzimir Tsiamchyk (BLR) 2:11:38         2002 Eindhoven
James Mwangi (KEN)  Debut 

Shigeru Aburaya         2:07:52        2001 Lake Biwa
Satoshi Irifune            2:09:58        2005 Beppu-Oita
Yuichi Washio            2:11:05        2006 Nobeoka
Tomoyuki Sato           2:09:43        2004 Tokyo
Takehisa Okino          2:12:24        2006 Beijing
Yusuke Kataoka         2:13:09        2006 Nobeoka
Tadayuki Ojima          2:08:18        2004 Lake Biwa
Kazuyoshi Tokumoto  Debut

Pace Makers
Joseph Kariuki (KEN)        2:13:58  1999 Berlin
Francesco Ingargiola (ITA) 2:08:48  2000 Roma
Lee Troop (AUS)              2:09:49   2003 Lake Biwa
Ben Kimoundiu (KEN)      2:08:52   2001 Chicago