The Nagano Olympic Memorial Marathon is a race unlike any other marathon in Japan. It has both an elite and a mass field, but what makes the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race unique is that it also invites several retired special guests to compete.
The guests for this year’s race, scheduled for Sunday (20), include 2000 Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi, double Olympic medallist Eric Wainaina of Kenya, 2009 world silver medallist Yoshimi Ozaki and 100km world record-holder Takahiro Sunada.
But of course the main focus will still be on the elite field. Nicholas Chelimo, winner here four years ago, returns to the Japanese city looking to regain his title. He won with 2:10:24 in 2010, then later that year went on to set a lifetime best of 2:07:38 when finishing second in Eindhoven.
The 31-year-old Kenyan is the fastest in the field, having twice run faster than 2:08. His last victory came just six months ago when he won the Cologne Marathon in 2:09:45. If he is in similar form, then he could be the favourite.
He will be joined in Nagano by compatriots Silas Sang and Martin Waweru. Sang finished second in Nagano two years ago, clocking a PB of 2:09:10. Waweru, who attended Aomori Yamada high school in northern Japan and now runs for Fujitsu track team, has a half marathon best of 1:02:02 and will be making his marathon debut in Nagano.
Nine-time European cross-country champion Serhiy Lebid and Mongolian record-holder Ser-Od Bat-Ochir are also in the field. Both of them set their lifetime bests just last winter with Lebid clocking 2:11:24 when finishing second in Lisbon, and Bat-Ochir recording 2:09:00 to win in Hofu. Of Bat-Ochir’s ten fastest marathons, six of them have been recorded in Japan.
The fastest Japanese runner in the field is Tomoya Adachi, who has a personal best of 2:10:22 from last year’s Lake Biwa Marathon. Other invited Japanese athletes are Taiga Ito who recorded a PB of 2:11:15 in Tokyo last year, Ryoichi Matsuo, who clocked 2:12:11 in Nobeoka earlier this year, and Hiroki Kadota, whose PB of 2:12:25 was set at the 2012 Beppu-Oita Marathon.
Kiyoko Shimahara’s personal best of 2:25:10 makes her the fastest runner in the women’s field – excluding, of course, guest runner Takahashi. But Shimahara retired from elite competition two years ago and has not run faster than 2:40 since then.
The same applies to Mika Okunaga, who has a PB of 2:27:16 and retired from top-level competition last March. She contested last year’s Nagano race and finished fourth in 2:44:21.
Assuming Shimahara and Okunaga won’t be real factors, the favourite could be fellow Japanese runner Rika Shintaku, who earlier this year smashed her PB with 2:31:15 in Tokyo. She will be joined by compatriots Shoko Shimizu, who recorded 2:32:43 at the 2013 Tokyo Marathon, and Seika Iwamura, who ran 2:33:15 in Osaka four years ago.
Kenya’s 2006 Commonwealth silver medallist Hellen Cherono is one of the fastest in the field, but her 2:29:33 PB dates back to 2007. In her most recent marathon, she clocked 2:37:08.
Others in the field include Eritrean record-holder Nebiat Habtemariam, Australia’s World Championships representative Lauren Shelley, and Russia’s Alina Prokopeva, who took silver medals in both the 10,000m and half marathon at last year’s World University Games.
The men’s course record of 2:09:05, set in 2012 by Francis Kibiwott, could be under threat, but the women’s course record of 2:24:55, set in 2000 by Elfenesh Alemu, looks to be safe for another year.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Nicholas Chelimo (KEN) 2:07:38
Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (MGL) 2:09:00
Silas Sang (KEN) 2:09:10
Tomoya Adachi (JPN) 2:10:22
Taiga Ito (JPN) 2:11:15
Sergei Lebid (UKR) 2:11:24
Ryoichi Matsuo (JPN) 2:12:11
Hiroki Kadota (JPN) 2:12:25
Martin Waweru (KEN) debut
Kiyoko Shimahara (JPN) 2:25:10
Mika Okunaga (JPN) 2:27:16
Hellen Cherono (KEN) 2:29:33
Rika Shintaku (JPN) 2:31:15
Nebiat Habtemariam (ERI) 2:32:04
Shoko Shimizu (JPN) 2:32:43
Seika Iwamura (JPN) 2:33:15
Lauren Shelly (AUS) 2:33:42
Alina Prokopeva (RUS) 2:38:34