Big PB for Yared Asmeron at the Lake Biwa Marathon (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

Tergat vs. Asmeron at Lake Biwa Marathon - PREVIEW

The 64th Lake Biwa marathon, the oldest continuous marathon in Japan, is scheduled to be held on Sunday March 1 on the out and back course that starts at Ojiyama stadium. 

It is the only gold label race in Japan. The race doubles as the qualifying race for the upcoming World Championships in Berlin.  The first Japanese in the race is assured of the place on the team. Seven sub 2:10 runners are invited to the race. 

Tergat's Marathon debut on Japanese soil

The fastest of them all is Paul Tergat, a former World marathon record holder.  He ran the world fastest marathon in the 2003 Berlin Marathon and has run sub 2:10 marathon eight times.  In his most recent marathon, Tergat was fourth in the 2008 New York City Marathon with 2:13:10.  Furthermore, in his last race he was 17th in the Kenyan Armed Force Cross Country race on January 17.

For Tergat, this will be his first marathon in Japan. Although he was invited to 2007 Fukuoka Marathon, he had to withdraw due to his military commitment.  The second fastest runner in the field is Jose Rios, who won the Lake Biwa Marathon in 2004 and 2006.  In 2004 edition of the race, Rios recorded the personal best of 2:07:42, which is the third fastest time in Lake Biwa. Last year, however, he was only sixth.  On his last marathon, the Olympic marathon in Beijing, Rios was 72nd in 2:32:35, but on his last race, Rios was third in 1:03:11 at the half marathon in Granollers. 

Another invited runner is Abderrahim Bouramdane, who has recorded 2:08:20 in the 2007 Seoul Marathon; his latest marathon was in New York City Marathon where he was fifth. Perhaps the favorite on the Sunday’s race is Yared Asmeron, who was second in the last year’s Lake Biwa Marathon. 

More importantly, Asmeron was fourth in the 2007 World Championships and eighth in the Beijing Olympic Games.  Asmeron has the half marathon best of 1:00:28, recorded in 2007.  Abiyote Guta has only two marathons to his credit, 2:10:38 in 2004 Koln Marathon and 2:15:56 in 2004 Enshede Marathon.  However, his 10000m best of 27:30.67, recorded in 2007, indicate that he should have much faster marathon in him.

World Champs qualifier for Japanese runners

The race to make the World Championships team will be fierce, for nobody really stands out. The most promising runners may be Yuzo Onishi and Tomoya Shimizu, who were 4th and 5th, respectively in the 2008 Lake Biwa Marathon. Onishi was superb in the last year’s race, improving his marathon best by nearly four minutes.

However, he was only fourth in his latest marathon, 2008 Hokkaido Marathon in 2:15:49. He ran couple Ekiden this winter, the best being third fastest in the 15.7Km stage at the New Year Ekiden in 47:48.  For Tomoya Shimizu, 2008 Lake Biwa Marathon was his debut marathon, so the upcoming Lake Biwa Marathon is a true test of his marathon ability.  For his most recent race, he was 18th in the Marugame Half Marathon on February 1. 

His twin brother Masaya Shimizu has run five marathons in his career and has the best of 2:12:31, which was recorded in the 2006 Lake Biwa Marathon.  Since Masaya share the same gene with Tomoya, a 2:09 marathon runner, with appropriate training, Masaya should also be able to run sub 2:10 marathon. 

Other invited runners are Kazutoshi Takatsuka, who recorded 2:08:56 in 2004 Lake Biwa Marathon, and Takashi Ota, who recorded 2:12:10 in the 2008 Tokyo Marathon. For his latest marathon, Takatsuka was eighth in the 2008 Tokyo Marathon in 2:11:15.  Ota started Beppu-Oita Marathon on February 1, but started to walk after 27Km due to side stitch and was forced to drop out of the race. However, in the New Year Ekiden, Ota was third fastest in 13.7Km stage with 38:50. Ota is returning to marathon racing with less than two month interval between the races.

The course of Lake Biwa Marathon used to be considered slow.  The course record first dipped under 2:10 in 1996.  However, since then, the winning time has been under 2:10 every year except 2007. The course record is 2:07:34 and three times in history of the race, the winning time has dipped under 2:08.  The greatest marathon in Lake Biwa was in 2001 when four runners broke 2:08. Can this year’s race match it? 

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Invited Runners
Paul Tergat (KEN)     2:04:55  2003 Berlin 
Jose Rios (ESP)                2:07:42   2004 Lake Biwa 
Abderrahime Bouramdane (MAR)   2:08:20   2007 Seoul 
Yared Asmeron (ERI)     2:08:34   2008 Lake Biwa 
Abiyot Guta (ETH)       2:10:38   2004 Koln 

Yuzo Onishi      2:08:54    2008 Lake Biwa
Tomoya Shimizu      2:09:23     2008 Lake Biwa
Kazutoshi Takatsuka    2:08:56      2004 Lake Biwa
Takashi Ota      2:12:10      2008 Tokyo
Masaya Shimizu    2:12:31    2006 Lake Biwa 

Pace makers
Isaac Macharia  (KEN)    2:07:16          2008 Dubai  
Nicholas Chelimo  (KEN)   2:08:51            2008 Seoul
Cutbert Nyasango (ZIM)    1:00:26 half    2007 Udine (World Half)
Naosato Yoshimura     1:02:51 half   2005 JPN Corporate team Half Marathon