Will Gebrselassie return to the top of the podium? - Tokyo Marathon Preview

Will Gebrselassie return to the top of the podium? - Tokyo Marathon Preview

Provided by IAAF

Tokyo, Japan - The best ever men’s field has been assembled for the sixth edition of the Tokyo Marathon, putting the course record, set in 2008, in jeopardy on Sunday (26).

Conditions for this IAAF Gold Label Road race are predicted to be near-perfect Marathon weather, with partly cloudy skies, a low of 5C and high of 8C.

Haile Gebrselassie, who entered last year’ race but was forced to withdraw due to injury, will finally run the race hoping the make the Ethiopian Olympic Marathon team. He needs to record a very fast time in Tokyo as three Ethiopians cracked 2:05 in January’s Dubai Marathon, which means Gebrselassie needs to run a comparable time.

At the pre-race press conference on Friday (24) afternoon, Gebrselassie and Yuki Kawauchi were at the center of attention. Kawauchi, seated next to the Ethiopian at the press conference, was asked how it felt to be sitting next to a legend. “I am very honoured,” was his reply.

Gebrselassie provided some interesting comments during the interview, albeit many were not directly related to Sunday’s race. When he was asked why he keeps on running, Gebrselassie answered, “I eat, sleep and run. It is part of my life. I will someday stop competing, but I will not stop running.” He also said” “In 10,000m, you compete against other runners, but at the Marathon you compete against the distance.” That was quite an appropriate comment considering the fact that he has dropped out of his last two marathons – 2011 Berlin and 2010 New York City. Is he ready to recapture his form from early 2010 when he ran 2:06?

The race pace set by the pacemaker, at this time, will be three minutes per kilometre, which translates to 2:06:35. Even if he ran 2:05 pace on Sunday, it’s unlikely that Gebrselassie would be running alone in front, as three other sub-2:07 runners along with three more sub-2:08 runners are in the field on Sunday.

The second fastest in the field is Jafred Kipchumba (KEN), who improved his best by more than two minutes to 2:05:48 in Eindhoven last October. He seemed to be on a roll, for Kipchumba has improved his Marathon best in three-consecutive races since April of 2010. Michael Kipyego also recorded his marathon personal best in Eindhoven, his last Marathon before Tokyo, his 2:06:48 more than four minutes better than his debut. A former Steeplechase specialist with an 8:08.48 best, Kipyego is a brother of Sally Kipyego who won silver at 10,000m in the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.

Gilbert Kirwa also has a sub-2:07 personal best, however, his 2:06:14 was recorded back in 2009. Since he has not even cracked 2:14 in the two marathons he’s run since March of 2010, Tokyo will be a race of redemption for Kirwa.

Three 2:07 runners in the field are Steven Kiprotich (UGA) and two former champions – 2008 champion Viktor Rothlin and the defending champion Hailu Mekonnen. Mekonnen has improved his Marathon best in every race since his debut at the 2010 Barcelona Marathon – from 2:12:36 in Barcelona to 2:07:35 in Tokyo last year. Twenty-two year old Kiprotich may be the most promising young runner in the field, for he ran 2:07:20 in his debut. In his second Marathon Kiprotich was 9th in the 2011 World Championships. Rothlin’s best of 2:07:23 was recorded in Tokyo in 2008 and is still the course record. His last good marathon was in August 2010 when he won the European title in Barcelona. At the press conference, Rothlin confirmed that he would not go with the lead group scheduled for a brisk 2:06 pace. He has an extra incentive to run well on Sunday because his first child was born just a few weeks ago.

For Japanese men, Tokyo is important because it is one of the qualifying races for the Olympic marathon team. Among the domestic runners, Yuki Kawauchi, who finished third last year with the personal best of 2:08:37, is attracting the most attention. He confirmed that he will be shooting for a time around 2:07, which should be good enough to clinch an Olympic team berth. Both Kawauchi and Arata Fujiwara set Half Marathon personal bests in Marugame in early February – 1:02:18 for Kawauchi and 1:01:34 for Fujiwara. Thus the race for the Olympic team spot is likely to be between the two.

Fujiwara confirmed that he is in great shape. “I am usually not certain how the race will turn out until I actually start the race, but this year I am sure I am going run well,” said Fujiwara, who finished second at both the 2008 and 2010 races. To that, Kawauchi responded with a grin. “I now know Fujiwara is going after the national marathon record.”

It’s interesting to note that Fujiwara has ran well in even numbered years in Tokyo, and this is another even numbered year. Notable too is that both Kawauchi, who works for Saitama prefecture, and Fujiwara, currently unemployed and without a sponsor, are not part of the corporate track team system.

Rothlin and Mekonnen are not the only runners with a chance to become a two-time Tokyo champion since Masakazu Fujiwara, the 2010 winner, has also entered the race. Meanwhile, Takayuki Matsumiya, the former 30Km World record holder with 1:28:00, has yet to fulfill his marathon potential as he has not broken 2:10. It is about time he ran a Marathon in a time that is on par with his time in 30Km road race.

The domestic women’s field is very weak because unlike the men, the race is not an Olympic qualifying race. The international women’s field is not weak however and since the women’s course record is a relatively modest 2:25:38, the record is likely to become history by noon Sunday. Helena Kirop with 2:23:37 is the fastest in the field, but two 2:24 runners from Ethiopia - Atsede Habtamu and Eyerusalem Kuma - are likely to challenge her. Will it be Kenya versus Ethiopia? Perhaps not, for Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova of Russia, the 2007 Worlds silver medalist in the Steeplechase, is also in the race.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Ed. Note: A statistical reference on the race (PDF, 1.7 MB), prepared by Nakamura, is attached in the ‘Related Items’ section at right. Nakamura is solely responsible for all content.

Invited Athletes:

Haile Gebrselassie (ETH), 2:03:59, 2008 Berlin

Jafred Kipchumba (KEN), 2:05:48, 2011 Eindhoven

Gilbert Kirwa (KEN), 2:06:14, 2009 Frankfurt

Michael Kipyego(KEN), 2:06:48, 2011 Eindhoven

Stephen Kiprotich (UGA), 2:07:20, 2011 Enschede

Hailu Meikonnen(ETH), 2:07:35, 2011 Tokyo

Oleksander Sitkovskyy (UKR), 2:09:26, 2011 Belaya Tserkev

Viktor Rothlin (SUI), 2:07:23, 2008 Tokyo

Japanese (Olympic qualifying race)

Yuki Kawauchi, 2:08:37, 2011 Tokyo

Arata Fujiwara, 2:08:40, 2008 Tokyo

Kazuhiro Maeda, 2:10:29, 2011 Beppu

Takayuki Matsumiya, 2:10:04, 2007 Rotterdam

Masakazu Fujiwara, 2:08:12, 2003 Lake Biwa

Takaaki Kouda, 2:11:08, 2011 Tokyo


Helena Loshanyang Kirop (KEN), 2:23:37, 2011 Venezia

Atsede Habtamu (ETH), 2:24:25, 2011 Berlin

Eyerusalem Kuma (ETH), 2:24:55, 2011 Amsterdam

Tatyana Petrova (RUS), 2:25:01, 2011 Berlin

Esayias Yeshi (ETH), 2:26:04, 2011 Daegu

Rosaria Console (ITA), 2:26:10, 2011 Berlin

Lishan Dula (BRN), 2:26:56, 2011 Rotterdam

Kateryna Stetsenko (UKR), 2:27:51, 2010 Dublin

Adriana da Silva (BRA), 2:32:30, 2010 Berlin

Japanese (NOT an Olympic qualifying race)

Eri Okubo, 2:28:49, 2011 Berlin

Yumiko Hara, 2:23:48, 2007 Osaka