Japanese distance runner Takuya Fukatsu (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Nagano, Japan

Fukatsu makes long-awaited debut in Nagano

The 17th edition of the Nagano Marathon will once again bring together elite athletes, retired stars and recreational runners at the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race on Sunday (19).

The event began in 1999 to commemorate the Winter Olympics that was held one year prior in Nagano. 10,000 runners are expected to take part in this year’s race.

This year’s special guest entries include 2000 Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi, double Olympic medallist and two-time Nagano winner Eric Wainaina, and 2009 world silver medallist Yoshimi Ozaki.

The Nagano Marathon records are 2:09:05 for men, set in 2012 by Kenya’s Francis Kibiwot, and 2:24:55 for women, recorded in 2000 by Ethiopia’s Elfenesh Alemu.

The biggest name among invited runners is Kenya’s two-time world champion and former world record-holder Catherine Ndereba. Now 42, she may not be the favourite, as her most recent marathon was more than three years ago, the 2012 Nagoya Women’s Marathon, where she was only 22nd with 2:35:08.

The second-fastest runner in the field – and the fastest among the Japanese entrants – is Kiyoko Shimahara who has a personal best of 2:25:10. She retired from elite competition after her fifth-place finish at the 2012 Osaka Marathon, but still enjoys participating in marathons but as a non-competitive runner.

Based on recent form, perhaps the best Japanese runner in the field is Eri Okubo. She set her personal best of 2:26:08 when finishing fourth at the 2012 Tokyo Marathon. Although her last two marathons were more than 13 minutes slower than her PB, she recently finished second over 30km in Oume and won the Tanigawa Half Marathon.

Kenya’s Beatrice Jepkemoi Toroitich is the fourth athlete in the field with a personal best faster than 2:30. She ran 2:27:41 at the 2012 Hamburg Marathon and 2:29:22 at the 2013 Toronto Marathon. After finishing second in Nagano two years ago, Toroitich will be keen to become just the second Kenyan women’s winner in the history of the race.

Russian women have won this race on 10 occasions. Nadezhda Leontyeva, who represented Russia at the 2013 World Championships and 2014 European Championships, could achieve her country’s 11th victory in Nagano.

Debutant Fukatsu takes on trio of talented Africans

His PB of 2:07:43 may make him the fastest in the field, but Kenya’s Jairus Chanchima has not run faster than 2:10 since 2012. If he is unable to get near the 2:10 level on Sunday, the role of favourite may fall on compatriot Henry Chirchir.

Like Chanchima, Chirchir’s PB was set three years ago, but he has maintained his form better and last year won the Hannover Marathon in 2:11:30.

In the history of the Nagano Marathon, Kenyans have won the men’s race 11 times, but they have been kept off the top spot of the podium for the past two years.

Kiflom Sium set his marathon PB in his first race over the classic distance, running 2:11:09 in Padua in 2012. The 27-year-old represented Eritrea at the 2013 World Championships, 2012 World Half Marathon Championships and six editions of the World Cross Country Championships.

Having set national records on the track for all distances from 800m to 10,000m, Byron Piedra could now target the Ecuadorian marathon record in Nagano. The 32-year-old took six minutes off his PB last month, running 2:14:39 in Torreon.

In the 16-year history of the Nagano Marathon, only one Japanese runner, Yuki Kawauchi, has won the men’s race.

Taiga Ito, the fastest domestic runner in the field, could add his name to the exclusive club of Japanese winners in Nagano.

But the most intriguing runner in the field is Takuya Fukatsu, who has a 10,000m best of 27:56.29 and a half marathon best of 1:01:25. A former high school and college ekiden star, who twice competed at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Fukatsu is making his long-awaited marathon debut.

Former college ekiden superstars of Fukatsu’s generation, such as Yuki Sato and Tsuyoshi Ugachi, have so far struggled with the transition to the marathon, so it remains to be seen if Fukatsu can do better over the classic distance.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Elite fields (with PBs)

MEN
Jairus Chanchima (KEN) 2:07:43
Henry Chirchir (KEN) 2:09:24
Kiflom Sium (ERI) 2:11:09
Taiga Ito (JPN) 2:11:15
Masanori Ishida (JPN) 2:13:07
Kohei Ogino (JPN) 2:13:12
Sho Matsumoto (JPN) 2:13:38
Byron Piedra (ECU) 2:14:39
Takuya Fukatsu (JPN) debut

WOMEN
Catherine Ndereba (KEN) 2:18:47
Kiyoko Shimahara (JPN) 2:25:10
Eri Okubo (JPN) 2:26:08
Beatrice Jepkemboi Toroitich (KEN) 2:27:41
Chihiro Tanaka (JPN) 2:29:30
Nadezhda Leonteva (RUS) 2:31:57
Shoko Mori (JPN) 2:34:28
Yumiko Kinoshita (JPN) 2:35:49
Akane Mutazaki (JPN) 2:37:14