The weather (cloudy 13 c, 88% humidity and little wind) was conducive to fast marathon running in the 53rd edition of the Fukuoka marathon, and as expected two runners ran sub 2:08 for the first time in the race history.
But fast times were turned in not by favorites like J Thugwane, J Ruto, T Hayata or M Ojima, but by relative unknown Gezenge Abera of Ethiopia whose PR was only 2:13:59 and by Mohamed Ouaadi of France (formerly of Morocco) whose PR was 2:09:17.
The race was an Olympic qualifying race for Japanese men. Hataya and Kunichika who trained with Inubushi during the summer was reported to be in great shape. Ojima who has ran three successive sub 2:10 marathon was supposed to be superb shape. But the pressure were on them. In the pre-race interview, Hayata was attempting to get pressure off of himself by emphasising that this is not his last chance to make an Olympic team, although most saw it as such. Ojima, in the post-race interview admitted that he had trouble sleeping the night before the race.
The pace setter was asked to set 15:00 per 5km pace, and indeed John Kariuki and Godfrey Chirchir (Kiprotich) along with Paul Kiptanui passed 1km in 2:59 and 5km in 15:01, an ideal pace.
Yet the pack containing all major contenders let the leaders go (pack was 13 seconds behind at 5km). Ojima admitted that main contenders were looking each other to much which sapped their mental energy. He also complained that constant change of pace tired him out before the real racing started. As the pace setter G Chirchir (Kiprotich) continued to lead at 10km (29:49) and 15km (44:50), the chase pack lead by Carlos Patricio fell further behind (26 seconds behind at 10km, and 44 seconds behind at 15km). But soon after 15km, the pace setter slowed down as if he was waiting for the pack to catch up and indeed the pack caught up around 17km.
As the leader approach 20Km (1:00:44), the main contenders for an Olympic team, M Ojima, T Kunichika, and T Hayata all moved to the front of the pack. Soon after passing half marathon (1:03:58), Chirchir (Kiprotich) moved ahead of the pack again, and by 25km (1:15:34) had 5 seconds lead. Out of the chase pack, Lima soon joined the pace maker, and Ojima who realised that he must cover the move did at 27.4km.
At 27.8km, with his job as a pace maker done, Chirchir (Kiprotich) disappeared from the front. About the same time, out of chase pack Ruto and an unknown Ethiopian Gezenge Abera started to chase Lima and Ojima and by 29.1km the lead pack grew to four runners. Two years ago, the 1996 Olympic champion Thugwane surged to the front around 30km, but this year, he fell behind at the same point.
Just when the race seemed to be narrowed down to four contenders, Ouaadi who was 13 seconds behind the leaders at 30km started to go after them at 31km. Lima injected a pace several times before making what seems to be his final move at 34km.
Only Abera was able to cover the move. Meanwhile, Ouaadi was gaining on the leader and at 35.9km, Ouaadi not only joined the leaders, but he went to the front. As Ouaadi continue to push the pace, Lima lost contact and the race came down to Ouaadi and Abera. Two leaders entered the stadium together for the final 550m (actually Abera almost missed the turn into the stadium, but Ouaadi let him know). As people associate Ethiopians with good kickers many expected Abera to outkick Ouaadi.
Abera made his move early. With 400m to go, a visible gap opened between the two and although Ouaadi tried hard to close the gap in the final home straight, Abera won by a second (2:07:54 to 2:07:55). Lima was third (2:08:40). It was the first time in its 53 year history that two runners broke 2:08 in the same race. Although Ojima broke 2:10 for four races in a row, he was disappointing 4th place. His Olympic dream may be over.
For Hayata, his Olympic dream is over, but Kunichika who suffered terrible blister did not make excuses about it. He will now concentrate on spring track season and still has a chance to make a 10000m Olympic team. He would like to excel in both.
K Ken Nakamura for IAAF
1) Gezenge Abera 2:07:54 (ETH)
2) Mohamed Ouaadi 2:07:55 (FRA)
3) Vanderlei Lima 2:08:40 (BRA)
4) Muneyuki Ojima 2:09;09 (JPN)
5) Yoshiteru Morishita 2:09:36 (JPN)
6) Tomoaki Kunichika 2:10:10 (JPN)
7) Toshiyuki Hayata 2:10:38 (JPN)
8) Takahiro Sunada 2:11:03 (JPN)
9) Seung-do Baek 2:11:24 (KOR)
10) Daniel Njenga 2:11:49 (KEN)
11) Nobuhiko Chiba 2:12:14 (JPN)
12) Julius Ruto 2:12:22 (KEN)
13) Yasuaki Yamamoto 2:12:45 (JPN)
14) Minoru Kishimoto 2:12:50 (JPN)
15) Takayuki Ishimoto 2:13:39 (JPN)
16) Toshiaki Kurabayashi 2:13:52 (JPN)
17) Rod de Highden 2:13:53 (AUS)
18) Bruce Deacon 2:13:55( CAN)
19) Ficas Wilbroad 2;14;12 (TAN)
20) Toshio Mano 2:14:27 (JPN)