Joseph Gitau of Kenya won the 66th edition of the Fukuoka International Marathon on Sunday (2), clocking 2:06:58.
Gitau, who is based in Japan and runs for the JFE Steel track team, produced the sixth fastest time ever in Fukuoka while pre-race co-favorites Haile Gebreselassie and Martin Mathathi both dropped out of the race.
Thus for the second consecutive year at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race a Kenyan on a Japanese corporate team took top honours in Fukuoka. Last year Josphat Ndambiri of Komori Corporation won the race in his debut in 2:07:36. Five years ago Samuel Wanjiru, who ran for nearby Toyota Kyushu at the time, won in 2:06:39.
This was Gitau’s third Marathon start. He dropped out of the 2009 edition, his debut marathon at around 28 kilometre and then finished only ninth in 2:21:54 in the 2010 Hokkaido Marathon. The third time was a charm for Gitau, who graduated from Sera High School in Hiroshima before joining his current team in 2006.
Gitau followed Henryk Szost of Poland closely when he surged in the 33rd kilometre. Soon Gitau took over the lead and then turned in the fastest splits of the race in the final kilometre. Gitau covered 30 to 35Km in 14:54 and then picked up the pace to cover 35 to 40Km in 14:41. Gitau became the 23rd Kenyan to break 2:07 this season, however, this number is still short of the record 25 sub-2:07 Kenyans in 2011.
Gebreselassie dropped out of the race at 32 kilometres while Mathathi, who was aiming at Sam Wanjiru’s debut record of 2:06:39, dropped out at 38 kilometres. Apparently, Mathathi’s last 40 kilometre training run did not go well. He was unable to pick up the pace at the end of his long run in training which shook up his confidence.
Hiroyuki Horibata, who surged into the front at 30 kilometres after the pace makers dropped out, finished second, and more importantly as first Japanese, in 2:08:24.
“I was confident of finishing first among Japanese,” Horibata said. “During the race I was feeling confident until 30 kilometres, but I was unsure of myself after that point. I am disappointed that I did not run 2:07.”
He had to run sub-2:08 to be selected automatically for the 2013 World Championships but now will have to wait until the spring see if he gets to run in Moscow. But unlike the women in Yokohama three weeks ago who did not go after the auto-selection time, Horibata tried very hard to crack 2:08. He did improve his personal best by more than a minute.
Szost, who set personal best of 2:07:39 in the Lake Biwa Marathon and then was the first European in the Olympic Games, finished third with 2:08:42. Three Japanese – Arata Fujiwara, Bunta Kuroki and Yuki Kawauchi – took the next three spots. However, only Kuroki, whose personal best until today was 2:12:10, improved his career best. Both Fujiwara and Kawauchi, who attracted much media attention before the race, were unable to fulfill their promise of running 2:07. Kawauchi, the most prolific elite Marathon runner in the world, who already ran seven marathons and one 50Km race this year, will contest the Hofu Marathon in two weeks.
Mohamed Trafeh of the U.S., who failed to finish his last three marathons, reached the finish today, seventh in 2:11:41. Trafeh was followed by another American, Ryan Vail, who was originally scheduled to run the New York Marathon a month ago. Vail improved his personal best by a minute.
How the race unfolded:
The first kilometre was covered 2:59, but most of the elites were not following the pace makers closely. At three kilometres (9:09), the lead pack caught up. Five kilometres were covered in 15:08, slower than the 15:00 pre-race plan. Underscoring the fine conditions, TV commentator Toshihiko Seko, the legendary runner who won in Fukuoka four times, keeps on emphasizing how great the weather is. The race proceeded with s steady pace, with the next two five kilometre interval taking 15:04 and 15:03, respectively. Despite the slowing pace over the next 10 kilometres (15:10 and 15:13), Isaac Macharia and Yoshinori Oda drop off the pace.
After 26 kilometres, the lead pack began to break up quickly. At 27 kilometres, a grimacing Kawauchi dropped back, leaving eight runners in front. When the final pace maker left the race at 30Km (1:30:38) Hiroyuki Horibata started to push the pace. After the turn around at 31.6 kilometres, the lead pack began to stretch out. Then suddenly Gebrselassie dropped out, Horibata, Szost, Gitau, Mathathi and Arata Fujiwara.
Just before the 34 kilometre mark, Szost surged into the lead with only Gitau able to follow. Gitau soon took over the lead, at which point the pack turned into a single file with Gitau leading Horibata, Szost, Mathathi and Fujiwara. By 35 kilometres, Gitau lead Szost and Horibata by 14 seconds a lead he only added to over the final seven kilometres.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Weather: Cloudy; Temperature: 8.8C, Humidity: 68%; Wind: 2.0m South East
1. Joseph Gitau (KEN) 2:06:58
2. Hiroyuki Horibata 2:08:24
3. Henryk Szost (POL) 2:08:42
4. Arata Fujiwara 2:09:31
5. Bunta Kuroki 2:10:08
6. Yuki Kawauchi 2:10:29
7. Mohamed Trafeh (USA) 2:11:41
8. Ryan Vail (USA) 2:11:45
9. Cuthbert Nyasango (ZIM) 2:11:48
10. Kota Noguchi 2:12:24
11. Dmytro Baranovskyy (UKR) 2:13:23
12. Tim Nelson (USA) 2:14:09
13. Scott Overall (GBR) 2:14:15
14. Harun Njoroge (KEN) 2:14:34
15. Takeshi Makabe 2:15:02
16. Yusei Nakao 2:15:11
Splits (leaders were all pace makers until 30Km so their name is excluded):
5Km - 15:08 - D Baranovskyy
10Km - 30:12 (15:04) - Isaac Macharia
15Km - 45:15 (15:03) - Haile Gebrselassie
20Km - 1:00:25 (15:10) - D Baranovskyy
Half - 1:03:48 - D Baranovskyy
25Km - 1:15:38 (15:13) - Yuki Kawauchi
30Km - 1:30:38 (15:00) - Haile Gebrselassie
35Km - 1:45:32 (14:54) - Joseph Gitau
- 1:45:46 - Henryk Szost
- 1:45:46 - Hiroyuki Horibata
40Km - 2:00:13 (14:41) - Joseph Gitau
- 2:01:21 - Hiroyuki Horibata
- 2:01:35 - Henryk Szost
Finish - 2:06:58 (6:45) - Joseph Gitau