Samon Ramadhani of Tanzania wins the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon (Yohei Kamiyama/Agence SHOT) © Copyright
Preview The 60th annual Beppu

Will a new star emerge in Beppu? - Beppu-Oita Marathon - PREVIEW

The 60th annual BeppuOita Marathon (also known as Betsudai Marathon), an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, is set for Sunday (6). The race is the third oldest Marathon in Japan, after the Lake Biwa and Fukuoka Marathons. 

There have been numerous highlights throughout its history. A World Marathon best was set in the 1963 edition Toru Terasawa when he clocked 2:15:15.8.  In 1978, Shigeru Soh covered each 5Km up to 25Km under 15 minutes to finish in 2:09:06, then the second fastest time behind Derek Clayton’s 2:08:34, to become the first Japanese to crack the 2:10 barrier. In 1985, Hiromi Taniguchi, a future (1991) World Marathon champion, won his debut marathon in Beppu. In 1991, it was the venue of the Marathon debut record (2:08:53, which was also a course record at the time) by Koichi Morishita, who went on to win the silver medal in the 1992 Olympics. A year later, in 1992, Hwang Young-Jo of Korea, who went on to win the gold medal ahead of Morishita in the Barcelona Olympics, finished second in the race.  In short, Beppu-Oita Marathon is known for emergence of the next bright stars.  

The top invited runners from abroad include Samson Ramadhani, the 2006 Commonwealth Games Marathon champion with a best of 2:08:01; Ethiopian Abiyote Guta, with a career best of 2:09:03; and Ahmed Baday, a 2:10:58 man from Morocco. 

Guta, 26, twice ran Marathons in Japan, finishing fifth at Lake Biwa in 2009 and 8th in Nagano in 2010. Since he ran his personal best in the 2010 Dubai Marathon, he may be the young emerging star on Sunday. Additionally, Australian Jeffrey Hunt, who was third here last year with 2:11:00, is back to the venue of his marathon debut. Later in the year, Hunt was 13th in 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Hunt is a former 3000m steeplechaser with a best of 8:41.37. It should be noted that two-time Olympic Champion, Waldemar Cierpinski was a former steeplechaser. Will Hunt follow the path pioneered by Cierpinski, from a mediocre steeplechaser to a world class Marathon runner? Incidentally, Ramadhani, who made his breakthrough at the 2003 Beppu-Oita marathon where he won with 2:09:24, was fifth in New Delhi.  Andrew Letherby, who ran well in the Commonwealth Games – third in 2002 and fifth in 2006, has also entered the race.

Two Kenyans, Daniel Njenga and Harun Njoroge, who live and run for a Japanese corporate team, have also entered the race.  Njenga, who was second in both the 2010 and 2002 editions of Beppu-Oita, was once a world class Marathon runner with a career best of 2:06:16 from Chicago in 2002, and has recorded five sub-2:08 marathons but he hasn’t broken 2:10 since 2007. Njoroge has run two Marathons so far, but his best is a modest 2:13:04. However, his 1:01:04 half marathon indicates that he has much faster Marathon potential.

The best Japanese in the field are Atsushi Fujita, who has the best of 2:06:51 and Kazuhiro Maeda, whose marathon best is 2:11:01. Fujita has not run a marathon since 2009 Berlin marathon, where he was only 8th in 2:12:54.  However, 1:29:46 at 30Km road race and 1:04:06 for 22Km Ekiden stages he recorded last year, point toward a faster Marathon.  He won Beppu in 2007. Kazuhiro Maeda, has two Marathons – second in 2009 Tokyo marathon and 39th in the 2009 World Championships - to his credit. His best of 2:11:01 is quite modest, but his personal best of 13:25.24 at 5000m and 27:55.17 for 10,000m indicate that 29-year-old Maeda could run faster. Will he be the next Marathon star in Japan?  Seven Japanese have broken 2:10 for the marathon in Beppu-Oita marathon so far. Is Maeda going to be the eighth? Shigeru Aburaya has a Marathon best of 2:07:52 and twice finished fifth in the World Championships as well as 2004 Olympic Games, but he has not broken 2:13 since 2007, when he was fifth at Fukuoka with 2:10:30 in 2007.

Other domestic invited runners include Ken-ichiro Setoguchi (2:11:440, Masaki Shimoju (2:12:18), and Fumiyuki Watanabe (2:13:52).  Their marathon bests are all quite modest, but they all came last year, so they may be on an upward spiral.

Unlike most Marathons around the world, Beppu-Oita requires qualifying time to enter. Last year, to qualify runners must have run a marathon under 2:50 or 30Km under 1:50. On the occasion of 60th edition of the race, the qualifying standards were dramatically softened to 3:30 for the Marathon. Also for the first time in 30 years, women will be able to enter the race, as long as they have broken the 3:30 standard.

The race begins at noon local time (GMT +9). Follow my twitter account (@KKenNakamura) for experimental live commentating.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

List of Invited Runners:
Samson Ramadhani (TAN), 2:08:01, 2003 London
Abiyote Guta (ETH), 2:09:03, 2010 Dubai
Ahmed Baday (MAR), 2:10:58, 2010 Marrakech
Jeffrey Hunt (AUS), 2:11:00, 2010 Beppu
Andrew Letherby (AUS), 2:11:42, 2005 Berlin
Daniel Njenga (KEN), 2:06:16, 2002 Chicago
Harun Njoroge (KEN), 2:13:04, 2010 Hokkaido

Atsushi Fujita, 2:06:51, 2000 Fukuoka
Shigeru Aburaya, 2:07:52, 2001 Lake Biwa
Kazuhiro Maeda, 2:11:01, 2009 Tokyo
Ken-ichiro Setoguchi, 2:11:44, 2010 Lake Biwa
Masaki Shimoju, 2:12:18, 2010 Nobeoka
Tomonori Onitsuka, 2:12:48,, 2005 Beppu
Akinori Shibutani, 2:13:51, 2000 Beppu
Fumiyuki Watanabe, 2:13:52, 2010 Nobeoka

Pace makers
Gert Thys (RSA), 2:06:33, 1999 Tokyo
Wilson Kigen (KEN), 2:08:16, 2008 Frankfurt
Jason Mbote (KEN), 2:07:37, 2008 Seoul
Hiroki Tanaka, 2:17:59, 2009 Beppu
Noritaka Fujiyama, 1:02:26 for half marathon