For Japanese men, road to London to begin in Fukuoka

For Japanese men, road to London to begin in Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan - The 65th Fukuoka International Marathon, the second oldest marathon in Japan, will be contested on Sunday 4 December. For Japanese men, this  IAAF Gold Label Road Race is the first domestic marathon to qualify for the 2012 Olympic team.  

Seven domestic runners – Yuki Kawauchi, Satoshi Irifune, Tomoyuki Sato, Kazuhiro Maeda, Masato Imai, Ken-ichiro Setoguchi, and Chiharu Takada - will be vying for the coveted Olympic team slots. The qualifying criterion is not specified exactly, but since two more qualifying races – Tokyo in February and Lake Biwa in March – are still to be contested, one must run an impressive race to qualify for the Olympics.  

The runner attracting most attention is Kawauchi, who recorded his personal best of 2:08:37 in the 2011 Tokyo Marathon, which qualified him for the World Championships where he finished 18th. Kawauchi is not part of the corporate sponsored track team system, but works full time as an administrator at a high school. Kawauchi runs during his off time, not like most professional runners in Japan, who train on company time.  It will be a major story if he makes the Olympic team, for until a few years ago Kawauchi was truly an amateur runner.  

Irifune twice ran in the World Championships, finishing 20th in 2005 and 14th in 2009. His personal best, 2:09:23, was recorded in Fukuoka in 2008 but he has not broken 2:10 since then.  

Maeda also ran the World Championships twice, the Marathon in 2009 and 10,000m in 2007. He recorded his personal best of 2:10:29 at this year’s Beppu-Oita Marathon.  

Sato, who has run more than a dozen marathons in his career, has also run in the World championships finishing 13th in 2007. He twice recorded the stage best in the recent Grand Tour of Kyushu Ekiden. His teammate at Asahi Kasei, Ken-ichiro Setoguchi, has also recorded a stage best twice in the Grand Tour of Kyushu Ekiden.  So they both seem to be in shape for the Marathon.

Irifune, Maeda and Sato all said, “This is my last realistic chance to make the Olympic team. I would like to make the best of it.”  

The Japanese marathon is in the state of crisis and Imai may be a saviour. He is the superstar of famed Hakone Ekiden, the collegiate Ekiden from Tokyo to Hakone and back. Last year, in Fukuoka, Imai ran a very aggressive race only to fade badly to finish fifth. His personal best may be only 2:10:41 from Lake Biwa 2011, but he may be on the verge of a breakthrough. He is coached by Koichi Morishita, 1992 Olympic Marathon silver medallist, who also coached the late Sammy Wanjiru for a few years after his graduation from high school.

According to Morishita, Imai’s training has gone well. It is a matter of how he will apply his training to the racing. “I derive my confidence from the fact that I trained injury free all year,” said Imai.

Past winner Baranovskyy leads international field

Eight invited runners from abroad are relatively modest compared to previous years. The fastest runner in the field is Ukrainian Dmytro Baranovskyy, who has ran well in Fukuoka. He finished first in 2005, second in 2006, third in 2009 and sixth in 2010.  His best is 2:07:15 from 2006, but he has not broken 2:10 since Fukuoka 2009. Baranovskyy, however, is known to run very well in bad weather, so if the weather turns cold, rainy, or windy, watch out for him.  

Two other sub-2:10 runners were also invited from abroad, both from Russia. Dmitriy Safronov, who was second last year in Fukuoka and third in the European Championships in Barcelona, recorded his personal best of 2:09:35 in London earlier this year, while Alexey V. Sokolov ran his personal best of 2:09:07 in Dublin 2007.  

Two former steeplechasers will be trying to improve their modest marathon bests. Briton Andrew Lemoncello, who has a marathon best of 2:13:40 from London 2010, has an 8:22.95 personal best in the 3000m Steeplechase. He also has a 10,000m personal best of 27:57.23, so Lemoncello should have much faster marathon in him.  However, Lemoncello dropped out of the 2010 Fukuoka marathon as well as 2011 Sapporo Half marathon, so he has not run well in Japan recently.

Another former steeplechaser in the field is Martin Dent with an 8:24.54 personal best. He was fourth in the event at the 2006 Commonwealth Games behind a Kenyan podium sweep. His Marathon personal best is only 2:13:27 from Beppu-Oita 2010.

Cragg ready to impress?

The fastest 5000m runner in the field with a recent 13:03.53 PB is Alistair Cragg. With a Half Marathon best of 1:00:49 set in New York earlier this year, Cragg’s Marathon potential could be huge. The Irishman made his Marathon debut in Boston this year but was forced to drop out due to a bad blister. Thus his first completed Marathon is awaited with much anticipation.

Other notable runners from abroad are Franck De Almeida, 2007 Pan American Games Marathon champion and Ridouane Harroufi, who has excelled over a wide range of distances. Harroufi was sixth at 1500m in the World Junior Championships and 10th at the World Half Marathon Championships.

Several runners with respectable personal bests will also be running, although they are not invited runners - their expense will not be covered by the organisers and have no obligations such as attending the pre-race press conference. Among them are Toshinari Suwa, with a 2:07:55 personal best from 2003 and sixth in the 2004 Olympic Games; Tsuyoshi Ogata, 2:08:37 personal best from 2003 and third in 2005 World Championships; Yuzo Onishi with personal best of 2:08:54; Takeshi Hamano with the personal best of 2:09:18; and Kurao Umeki with the personal best of 2:09:52.  

The most intriguing debutante is Josphat Ndambiri, a Kenyan living in Japan. He has a 26:57.36 10,000m best and was fifth at the 2007 World Championships. The fastest Marathon debut on Japanese soil is 2:06:39 in Fukuoka by Wanjiru in 2007. The pace makers will push the pace at 3min per kilometre, which translates to a 2:06:35 finish.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

A statistical reference (PDF, 1.4 MB), prepared by Nakamura, is attached in the ‘Related Items’ section at right. Nakamura is solely responsible for all content.

Invited Runners -

Name, Personal Best, Venue


Dmytro Baranovskyy (UKR), 2:07:15, 2006 Fukuoka

Dmitriy Safronov (RUS), 2:09:35, 2011 London

Alexey V. Sokolov (RUS), 2:09:07, 2007 Dublin

Ridouane Harroufi (MAR), 2:10:14, 2008 Seoul

Frank De Almeida (BRA), 2:12:32, 2008 Paris

Martin Dent (AUS), 2:13:27, 2010 Beppu-Oita

Andrew Lemoncello (GBR), 2:13:40, 2010 London

Alistair Cragg (IRL), 1:00:49, 2011 New York Half (DNF 2011 Boston)


Yuki Kawauchi, 2:08:37, 2011 Tokyo

Satoshi Irifune, 2:09:23, 2008 Fukuoka

Tomoyuki Sato, 2:09:43, 2004 Tokyo

Kazuhiro Maeda, 2:10:29, 2011 Beppu-Oita

Masato Imai, 2:10:41, 2011 Lake Biwa

Ken-ichiro Setoguchi, 2:11:44, 2010 Lake Biwa

Chiharu Takada, 2:12:44, 2010 Fukuoka

Other Notable runner:

Josphat Ndambiri (KEN), Debut

Pace makers:

Mamoru Hirano

Isaac Macharia

Nicholas Kiprono

Boniface Kirui  

Provided by IAAF